Dripping with sex and throbbing with violence, yet blessed with humour, The Car Man is far and away the most adults-only of Matthew Bourne’s many successful shows. So it’s easy to see, at least in purely commercial terms, why it’s revived less often than, say, his charmingly heartbreaking Edward Scissorhands or the game-changing, ground-breaking Swan Lake.
But it is a great dance show and I’d be willing to bet that even your strait-laced old granny would find more to enjoy in it than most of the dance offerings around, where “sexy” is somehow confused with a see-through dress and some strategically-placed sequins.
Once upon a time, when The Car Man first burst upon the scene in 2000, it was described as “an auto-erotic thriller” – a much wittier tagline than the current “Bizet’s Carmen Re-Imagined” – dating from the 2007 revival, the last time it was seen at The Lowry. So “re-imagined” is it though, that with the exception of the music, you could be hard-pushed to work out the exact parallels with Bizet’s Carmen. Bourne himself claims that the parallels with the opera story are “elements of lust, passion, revenge, and murder and all those things that are associated with Carmen,” going on to admit that “there are at least two characters, a male character and a female character that you could say were ‘like’ Carmen but there are no characters that are intended to actually be Carmen”. “More importantly,” he asserts, “I think the essence of Carmen is in there but we’ve set it in a different place and time.”
An equally, if not more, valid point of narrative comparison is the noir-thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice. It’s surely not by chance that film fan Bourne has a main character called Lana, a reference to Lana Turner’s starring role in the 1946 film version of James M. Cain’s book, or that there’s a visual gag about the notorious Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange sex scene in the 1983 remake.
Thus, the action (and when I say action in this case, I really do mean the production is action-packed) is set in the small, Mid-West town of Harmony (a name that becomes increasingly ironic as the story develops) in and around a garage/diner. Into town one fine day drifts polysexual troublemaker Luca/The Car Man (Jonny Ollivier), who takes up employment at the garage run by Dino (played here by Alan Vincent, who created the role of Luca in 2000) and his much younger-wife Lana (Zizi Strallen, who’s Bonnie Langford’s niece, fact fans). Also around, as well as a bunch of sex-obsessed semi-hoodlums straight out of any number of “teen peril’ B-movies, are hired hand Angelo (Leon Moran, from Chorlton) and Lana’s younger sister Rita (Kate Lyons). In no time at all, Luca is vigorously stirring this sexual melting pot and not long after that comes murder, false accusations, incarceration, brutality, rape – you get the steamy gist.
It’s all delivered at a delirious pace by the extraordinarily talented New Adventures dancers and seems, if anything, more melodramatic than I remember. But it’s as witty as it is gritty and, even by Bourne’s high standards, is right up there with his very best. In case it takes another seven or eight years for him to get around to reviving it again, I’d seriously recommend you seize the opportunity to catch it at The Lowry while you can.
By Kevin Bourke
What: Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man
Where: The Lowry, Salford
When: until May 30, 2015
Tickets: from £27, available to buy here
For tour dates, click here