Down, down, deeper on down
For the first 10 minutes or so of The Car Man there’s a lot of big ensemble dancing and bullying but not a great deal of plot. With the arrival of a drifter named Luca however, everything changes and we’re left with arguably Matthew Bourne’s darkest psychological work.
Don’t get me wrong, there are laughs (such as the completely random French contemporary dance group performing in the American mid-west night-club) and there’s a lot of crotch-grabbing but the second half especially is high in violence and emotional intensity.
Keeping all the best tunes from George Bizet’s famous opera Carmen but relocating the action from 19th century Sevilla to 1960s America, Bourne has also altered the story considerably. Thus Luca wanders into a small town in nowheresville, sleeps with Lana, the garage owner’s wife, and then the local outsider Angelo. He then murders the garage owner in a fit of a rage and frames Angelo for the crime. Innocent Angelo is sent to jail and we watch as both he and Luca descend into hallucinatory-induced madness over what’s happened.
It’s a dramatically ambitious tale but Bourne’s undoubted story-telling talent relates it clearly through strong characterisation and revealing duets that push the plot forward rather than breaking up the action. It also helped massively that there was a genuine chemistry amongst the entire cast.
Alan Vincent (who created the original Luca when The Car Man was premiered in 2000) was superb as Dino, the garage owner; terrifying when alive and even more so when dead. Liam Mower was convincing as the put-upon Angelo but less so when it came to his moment to step up and Chris Trenfield’s Luca simply hummed brooding menace. I wished there had been more opportunity to see Katy Lowenhoff’s wonderfully expressive face and disarming humility while Zizi Strallen was an undeniably sexy temptress/evil cow Lana.
Lez Brotherston’s designs were clever and effective – especially the simplicity of the car chase and the attention to detail in the props and signage. The ensemble dancing throughout was exemplary (and there was plenty of it) and the acting wasn’t overcooked. This is one of Bourne’s best works and deserves a higher profile in his canon.
The Car Man is at New Wimbledon Theatre until 25 April 2015 before continuing its national tour. Tickets, as well as loads of info, photos and videos are available on the Matthew Bourne New Adventures website.