Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man is simply a stunning and innovative piece of work that needs to be seen on stage to be fully appreciated. This is one time when a review is just not going to do the production the justice it deserves. Also, The Car Man is just so unique in its approach to the original source material of Bizet’s “Carmen” that making any comparisons is useless. This is not so much a “re-imagining”, but a “stand-alone” piece of work in its own right.
As usual, Matthew Bourne has taken source material that so many people have worked on, but once again approached it from a unique angle and given the public a fresh and new piece of work. The essence of the original Carmen, is here as the source material, but Matthew Bourne is quick to point out that this is The Car Man and NOT Carmen. Anybody going to see this work should know from the start exactly what they are going to see.
This work uses music from the “Carmen” ballet by Rodion Shchedrin with newly commissioned music by Terry Davies. This allows the familiar sounds of Bizet’s music to be there, but also allows the dancers to perform where needed to music specifically written for their movements. A further twist has been taken as the whole setting has been moved to a garage/repair shop and a diner in the fictional small town of Harmony in the USA (population 356) in an Italian/American neighbourhood in the early 1960s. This is where the production starts to take on its unique identity as elements of classic cinema now start to take over. The story line loosely uses elements of real “earthy” and certainly not glamorous Hollywood films such as “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, but also gives European influences to the feel and visuals.
As with the original, this is a story of love, passion and betrayal, and being a Matthew Bourne production there are a few sexual twists to that mix along the way. As always, we have some principal roles on stage, but picking these out is no reflection in any way on the outstanding cast of dancers/actors that this company has.
Garage and Dino’s Diner owner Dino Alfano (Alan Vincent) is the point around which the story line develops and this part is a dramatic one for Alan rather than a dancing one and he dose this in great style. Dino is married to the beautiful but very bored with him Lana (Zizi Strallen). When a “Man Wanted” sign is put up for hired help, drifter Luca (Jonny Ollivier) takes the job and life changes for everyone. It was nice to see Alan Vincent return in the second half of the show in a dance role too.
Zizi Strallen and Jonny Ollivier are simply outstanding together as Lana and Luca. Both are amazing dancers and actors, but there is an on-stage spark between them when they are together that is needed to make this story work. No passion, no Car Man – simple as that. Fortunately there is plenty of this on stage tonight.
There is also a second story line running between Rita (Lana’s younger sister) played by Kate Lyons and Angelo (a hired help) played by Liam Mower. Outstanding performances are again put in by both dancers/actors.
Choreography is just outstanding and it is obvious that even just to be on stage in a Matthew Bourne production as a dancer/actor means that you have to be at the very top of your game. This is a dance company with incredibly high standards in every area of production
I am deliberately leaving a lot of elements out in this review as I have read that Matthew Bourne is not in favour of written synopsis of his work as he wants the audience to interpret it in their own way, and I agree with him completely here. “The Car Man” is a piece of work that will mean something slightly different to almost everyone watching it.
Everyone and everything just fell into place on stage tonight. The set visuals are outstanding in their look and feel of the period. Credit for this goes to set and costume designer Lez Brotherston and it is all enhanced by lighting and sound design from Chris Davey and Paul Groothuis.
This performance runs at the Festival Theatre until June 13th, and if there is a show not to miss this year, then this is probably the one for me. Do try to get there earlier though as although the show officially starts at 7.30pm, life in the garage and diner starts about 15 minutes earlier.
If you want to find more out about this production go to Matthew Bourne’s own company website at
Review by Tom King