Matthew Bourne’s steamiest of shows returned to Sadler’s Wells last night. Set in an Italian American community in the fictional town of Harmony in the early 1960s, The Car Man is a tale of sex, passion, murder and revenge, danced to a score derived from Bizet’s opera Carmen. Caroline Bishop was in the first night audience…
Harmony is anything but harmonious. Lana (the tall, angular Michela Meazza) is an attractive, passionate woman living a dreary existence working in the diner owned by her unpleasant older husband Dino (New Adventures’ Artistic Associate Scott Ambler). When brooding stranger Luca (Alan Vincent) comes to town, getting a job at Dino’s garage, Lana is drawn to the excitement and passion that he seems to offer her. The brash, dangerous and overtly sexual Luca wastes no time in beginning a steamy affair with Lana, and, after standing up to the town’s loutish bullies, he attracts the adoration of young innocent Angelo and seduces him too. But when Dino catches his wife and Luca in an uncompromising clinch after a party, the pair end up battering the garage owner to death, framing the naïve Angelo for the murder.
In the choreography, Bourne depicts the sexual tension and passion that runs as an undercurrent through this small town in America – the sexual frustration of Lana which breaks like a dam when she encounters alpha male Luca; the sweet, unsure courtship dance of Angelo and Lana’s equally innocent sister Rita; the predatory nature of Luca. The sound of crickets buzzing and the warm tones of the lightning projected on the set help to emphasise the heat, the sweat and the passion in Harmony.
Lez Brotherston’s set is effective in its flexibility. The central building changes easily from Dino and Lana’s house to the mechanic’s locker room; in Act Two it becomes a cabaret club with couples clinched together in metal cages, and then, swiftly, the low-lit club becomes the stark jail where Angelo languishes while his former friends enjoy themselves.
The transformation of Angelo (played by Richard Winsor, one of the leads in 2005’s Edward Scissorhands) from easily-led innocent into hate-filled scapegoat packs an emotional punch and his anguish is beautifully conveyed by his tortured solo dance in prison.
Bourne is known for his love of film, and, helped by the score, which provides both dramatic and lighter moments, the production is very filmic in nature. A high-energy group dance is punctuated by slow-motion close-ups on Luca, indicating his predatory intent towards Lana.
The Car Man is a fast-moving thriller that contains all the elements of a film noir. Though told without dialogue, Bourne and his company of dancers show themselves to be consummate storytellers by expressing the passion, the violence and the emotion of this tale through the medium of dance.
Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man runs at Sadler’s Wells until 5 August.