★★★★★ | Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, UK Tour

Matthew Bourne’s critically acclaimed production of Swan Lake is welcomed back to the stage on this national tour. Based on the traditional ballet, Bourne provides an updated and contemporary vision of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. The piece follows a young prince who is bored with his life of public duties and frustrated by his mother’s inability to truly show any affection towards him. His life escalates to the point where he contemplates suicide, but changes his mind when he appreciates the beauty and magnificence of the swans on the lake. But his saviours may also be his downfall as matters culminate in confrontation and rejection at the Grand Ball.

Bourne’s signature contemporary twist on the classic ballet is simply outstanding and leads to a beautiful, moving and breath-taking pieces of theatre. This version is perhaps best known for using an all-male ensemble for the bevy of swans, but whilst there is no denying the dramatic impact that places on the piece, there are so many other elements which elevate this piece of dance to the dizzying heights it reaches.

Starting with the music, the show preserves Tchaikovsky’s score and plays it beautifully, with the sound being crisp, crystal clear and loud enough to be the perfect balance of being dramatic but never intrusive. The costumes were lavish, even down to the finest details. The set was sturdily constructed and looked amazing. The use of lighting created an individual atmosphere in every single scene and an incredible use of shadows during one particular scene created a chilling environment. In essence, the whole production was of the highest quality and absolutely oozed an abundance of class and sophistication.

From the almost monochrome opening scenes in the palatial bedchamber to the vibrant explosion of colour in the Swank Bar, the modern twists provided by Bourne provided for a fresh and vivacious production which constantly surprised and delighted in equal measures. A combination of clever nods to the source material added to the joy, for example, Bourne boldly stages a ballet within a ballet, poking some tongue in cheek fun at the romantic ballets themselves, of which Swan Lake is a prime example.

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The grace, elegance and sheer talent of the entire cast was undeniable and simply could not be faulted in any way. The infusion of different style of dance, from ballet to jazz and beyond was seamless and fitted the traditional score perfectly whilst the narrative aspect of the production was easy to follow and conveyed the story well.

By replacing the female swans with a male ensemble, the show has been interpreted as being very homo-erotic, not least because of the relationship between the Prince and the Male Swan but the attractive cast quite rightly underplay the point, keeping the show more on the right side of sensuality as opposed to eroticism.

From the opening scenes to the terrifying and tearful finale, this show has everything to recommend it including humour, style, spectacle, originality and genuine emotion. As a piece of theatre, it cannot be recommended highly enough.