Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man review – raunchy dance thriller with a supercharged engine | Arrange

Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man is a steamy, pulp-fiction take on the opera Carmen. His object of desire is Luca, a sweaty dude who drifted to a small town in 1950s America, where he double-crossed his lovers: Lana, the sultry wife of the local mechanic, and Angelo, a sweet, bullied who doesn’t fit in with the macho culture of girls and gangs that surrounds him. The show was a success when it first performed in 2000, acclaimed for its powerful mix of genre and genre (fans will have fun spotting the cinematic references, nods to ballets, modern dance and musicals, and savoring the retro designs and iconography). It is now back in a larger scale version – bigger! bolder! tougher! – for a limited print run at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

What this vast auditorium loses – some pressure cooker intensity, dramatic detail – the production makes up for. The incredibly versatile tiered set cleverly integrates a live orchestra and display screens; it can change stages with the flick of a switch and extends along a push stage on which dancers can scroll or tumble. The amplified music combines numbers from Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen suite with sound effects, so that it serves as both an orchestral score and a movie soundtrack.

Zizi Strallen (Lana), Will Bozier (Luca) and Paris Fitzpatrick (Angelo) in The Car Man by Matthew Bourne at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Bourne ties choreography closely to storytelling. After the initial staging group numbers, the first act is sparked, driven, and finally burned by carnal lust: Luca (Will Bozier in tonight’s production; there are two alternate casts) has an uneasy coupling with Lana (Zizi Strallen) smoldering, quickly followed by an enthusiastic ride in the back with amorous Angelo (Paris Fitzpatrick) that sends the whole car shivering. The rest of the cast, after swapping and tasting each other’s cigarettes, break out into a polymorphic rut – not so much sex between individuals as Eros has been unleashed. If the choreography of the whole tends towards the block, it is the partnership which counts here: entanglement of the members, breaking of the borders, change of power and devouring of space.

In true marmite style, the sex leads to deception and violence, and the second act is fueled by guilt and revenge. The principal dancers carry the story with full-bodied conviction, but the entire cast seems to relish their roles in a work that is outrageously melodramatic and deeply serious, classy and trashy, manipulative and heartfelt. Like Luca himself, The Car Man brazenly manages to play it both ways.

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