Matthew Bourne’s “The Car Man” – Bizet’s Carmen re-imagined. Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The multi- award winning Choreographer- Director, Matthew Bourne must have amazing, colourful dreams, in which dance and literary classics – Nutcracker!, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Dorian Gray – are given a contemporary makeover with inspirational, artistic vision. “Swan Lake,” his now legendary, all male, wittily-camp extravaganza became the longest running ballet in the West End and on Broadway.

car man posterThe Car Man is Bizet’s Carmen Re-imagined but as Bourne admits, “I wasn’t particularly interested in the story of Carmen, the opera. I know there are parallels, but it was more the feeling of the music and the feeling of what we all know Carmen to be.”

(i.e. a seductively sexy Spanish gypsy girl in a cigarette factory, 1820, Seville).

Instead, the plot is based loosely on James M Cain’s 1934 crime thriller, “The Postman always Rings Twice”, a fever-pitched tale of an itinerant drifter who stumbles into a job, an erotic obsession, and murder.

postman 1946The perfect plot indeed for a movie (1946 & 1981) and also an intimately-staged, chilling version by Opera Theater of St. Louis which was performed, as I recall vividly, at the 1983 Edinburgh Festival.

postman 3While the audience take their seats, the cast is ready on stage as a huge Billboard screen welcomes us to Harmony, Pop, 375, a rural community, mid-west America, late 1950s.

The huge steel scaffold structure of a set, designed by Lez Brotherston, is so realistic: a neon sign for Dino’s Diner with Daily Specials menu, Gasoline station & Car repair shop, a couple of vintage cars, tyres, mechanics in vests and jeans – the boys being eyed up by neighbourhood girls in pretty summer dresses. With beer and cigarettes, it’s time to party.

car man groupAs a prologue to the passionate drama soon to unfold, the garage boys stop work and strip off to shower in the locker room/ apartment above the garage. A large sign, Man Wanted, is soon spotted by a drifter, just arrived in town, looking for work.  Luca offers his services to Dino, while his wife Lana (named after Lana Turner in the 1946 movie), observes the newly recruited Car Man with personal interest.

“Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, that’s larceny”.  James M Cain, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”

The narrative is brilliantly translated into action without words by the ensemble of dancers. Bourne’s choreography is driven, often at full speed, by the melodic music: seamless, synchronised routines with energetic acrobatics glide into graceful, balletic pas de deux sequences; a lively country & western barn dance shifts into beatnik jives in a nightclub.

When the summer night becomes Too Darn Hot, Luca and Lana, a sultry and seductive femme fatale, take advantage of Dino’s absence with lustful abandon. This is breathtaking, fast and furious, erotic dirty dancing, from floor to car hood to the table in the Diner, ( a scene borrowed from the 1981 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange).

Luca and Lana - their adulterous affair sizzles in the summer heat

Luca and Lana – their adulterous affair sizzles in the summer heat

When Dino arrives home, the climax of their brief encounter heads uncontrollably towards an act of shockingly graphic violence.  What is so powerful is the portrayal of characters, expressing such spontaneous and truthful emotion and anger.

“The Car Man” is like a multi-layered, theatrical jigsaw of handpicked pieces from classical music, Hollywood movies, hard boiled crime fiction and dance.

The stylish period glamour, dramatic tension and artistic vision is like watching a Film Noir re-enacted live on stage – a steamy hot, Hitchcockian-style thriller of a road trip. For lovers of contemporary dance, the choreography is simply electrifying, exhilarating  and exquisitely beautiful in its pace and passion.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – 9 – 13th June, 2015.

Spring – Summer 2015 UK Tour dates:

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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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