Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures – Matthew Bourne: Richmond Theatre, 31 May 2012

On your marks, get set, go

Never has so much underwear been worn by so few. Matthew Bourne’s Spitfire on parade. Photo by Roy Tan

This fun selection of three of Matthew Bourne’s earliest works demonstrate that he’d pretty much hit on his winning formula from the off. Present here is the charming pastiche, the heavily stylised characterisations, the clever use of sound and the campest of campest camp that characterise his more recent blockbusters. What differs is that he was still refining his storytelling and, perhaps more surprisingly, was offering up far more inventive choreography.

Spitfire presents four buff young male models in string vests and Y-fronts. They preen their way amusingly about the stage casting lascivious, but equally disdainful, looks at each other and the audience, all the while vying for the limelight and milking the applause like Russian diva ballerinas pausing in the middle of Swan Lake.

Town and Country potters along with hit-and-miss skits; the bath-tub scene in Town is nicely done and the clog dance in Country was superbly executed as, alas, was a poor hedgehog in one of the funniest things I’ve seen on the stage. Generally though, despite its Olivier nomination, the characters were ill-defined and heading nowhere.

The best was left till last. The Infernal Galop wandered aimlessly along to start with, albeit to some great French chansons and the night’s best dancing, but with the introduction of a gent’s urinal, a cottaging couple and a travelling gypsy band suddenly Bourne’s storytelling shone gloriously forth and the path for his later full-length ballets was lit.

Gerard Davis

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