Dance Review: The Car Man at Sadler's Wells

London in summer may have been a mostly damp disappointment so far but inside Sadler’s Wells it is sizzling hot. Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man: Bizet’s Carmen Re-Imagined, originally staged in 2000, is the most raw and adult of Bourne’s cinematically-inspired masterpieces. Gone is the suppressed passion struggling to burst through very British manners in Bourne’s classics Swan Lake and Cinderella - The Car Man is an upfront Stateside bit of rough.   

A stranger arrives in a small Midwest Italian-American town called Harmony and changes the fate of the inhabitants. Lana, the sultry and put upon wife of the abusive local garage and diner owner, falls immediately in lust with this hunky silent figure who stands out even amongst the most macho of the locals. Unlike Harmony’s male inhabitants, Luca can not only hold his own in a fight but also sticks up for weaker characters. A show of strength and care -  a combination that proves irresistible to Lana. But Lana is not the only one under Luca’s spell as Angelo, a shy individual who helps at the garage and is bullied by his peers, forms the third point of a love triangle with thrilling and deadly consequences.

The Car Man is not an updated take on Bizet’s opera classic but has Carmen qualities such as intensity and grittiness. Both Luca and Lana have characteristics akin to Carmen - both are sexually manipulative and cause trouble in their wake. Bizet’s music lends itself effortlessly to to the sexually charged energy  and drama throughout the production. The look of The Car Man is early Sixties America with the boys straight out of iconic Levi’s commercials and the girls in circle skirts and pedal pushers. But it’s a far cry from rose tinted retro gloss thanks to gutsy unflinching choreography and acting - more evocative of Cinecitta films than those of Hollywood.

The dances in The Car Man are bursting with life. One moment there’s a joyous celebratory West Side Story-esque number, filled with lifts and legs happily circling towards the heavens. The next moment is an en-masse sex simulation with elaborate contortions and slow controlled movement that suggests almost unbearable sweatiness of a body in the summer heat. Bourne’s choreography also pulls off the difficult task of violent scenes putting audiences on the edge of their seats while avoiding gratuitous vulgarity - one notably powerful scene was of Angelo being sexually assaulted by a prison guard.  

The Car Man is another of Bourne’s triumphs, full of drama and his distinctive touch of comedy combined with eroticism. This production is like a live noir film with a cast who recreate that “something” that stars of yesteryear like Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor had. Lots of style matched up with plenty of substance and lashings of sexiness thrown in. It certainly beats watching an afternoon film on Channel 4 anytime.

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