★★★★★ | Matthew Bourne: The Car Man

Set amongst the Italian-American community in a small town in 1960’s America, Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man reimagines Bizet’s most popular Opera, Carmen, in a more contemporary setting.

Luca (Tim Hodges) is a drifter, whose charisma immediately draws the attention of Lana (Zizi Strallen), the wife of Dino, Luca’s boss. They embark on a passionate affair, but Luca catches the eye of Angelo, a young mechanic who is bullied by his contemporaries and who is irresistibly drawn to the stranger. In a heady mix of violence, murder, sex, passion and revenge, Luca’s arrival sets off a cataclysmic chain of events.

The overall feeling of the piece is one of grimy, seedy sensuality, with more scantily clad dancers, muscular, sweaty torsos and bulging biceps than you could reasonably expect and an abundance of sexually charged encounters, which abandon the usual constraints of sexuality. The main protagonist, Luca, is clearly comfortable in his attraction to both sexes and his passionate encounters with both Lana, his boss’s wife, and Angelo, the young mechanic, demonstrate both his irresistible allure and his self-serving manipulation of others. The other townsfolk are equally as liberal, where the fluidity of sexuality mixes in with the testosterone-fuelled masculinity of the mechanics and their blend of both fiery and submissive girlfriends. This is a gritty world, where sex, rough handling and casual violence are compounded by the intense heat, and one which comes across superbly in the theatre. It is also a world where the levels of sexual tension and dramatic tension are evenly matched. This is not just a straightforward narrative piece, it is a piece that delivers a genuinely enthralling story, pulling you in early on, and not releasing its taught grip until the final curtain falls.

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Whilst using what is effectively an abridged version of Bizet’s score, Bourne cleverly utilises the most identifiable pieces and surrounds them with original music, making the accompanying score simultaneously familiar and fresh. Further inspiration comes from Bizet’s opera, but never in such abundance that this production becomes a re-tread. For me, Luca was Carmen, and switching the sex of the central character was an inspired choice, but that doesn’t stop the other characters, Lana in particular, from taking on the mantle of Carmen at different junctures in the story.

The cast were universally on form, tightly choreographed and performed incredibly, injecting each of their roles with uniqueness and filling the stage with an energetic and boundless performance, where the character was as important as choreography. Tim Hodges was as charismatic as the character he portrayed, and Angelo’s transformation from naive teenager to vengeful young man was superbly handled by Liam Mower. The set, crystal clear music and lighting only served to make this production the whole package. The Car Man is a simply stunning piece of theatre and could easily sit as this generations West Side Story.

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Sultry, sexy and sensual, you would be hard pushed to find a better blend of dance, drama and passion.
The Car Man is at Sheffield Lyceum until 27th June 2015, before moving to Sadlers Wells Theatre, London until 9th August.

About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.