Sunday, 26 July 2015

Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells

Last week we went to see Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells which was where I saw it (possibly in the same seats) when it was revived in July 2007. It seems like it's a summer show and it's certainly hot and steamy.

The tale is set in small town America, in Harmony with a population of some 370 souls, which is little more than a garage and a diner. The local lads work in the garage and the girls in the diner next door and the diner comes alive when the garage closes and everyone gets together for their night out.

Dino owns the garage and diner which is run by his wife Lana and her sister Rita. Lana makes it clear on numerous occassions that she doesn't want to be too close to her aging husband but has nowhere to turn. And then Luca appears, a drifter who is good with his hands and starts working in the garage and eventually starts an affair with Lana. At the same time, he's stringing Angelo along, the local geek who likes to read in his break in shifts from the garage and is supposedly going out with Rita. When Luca doesn't get his was with Lana because Dino comes home early, he lures Angelo into a car for rumpy-pumpy and the car rocks back and forth. Angelo is smitten. He's still bullied by the lads but at least he now has a friend.

The first half is all exuberance and full of a passion for life and love, for showing off and getting the girl, for being one of the lads. Endless movement, quick and focused with no stillness at all. And then it goes horribly wrong when Dino comes home early again. Lana and Luca have danced a most passionate dance, sizzling with erotic energy and then Dino finds them in an embrace on the floor and is enraged by this proof of Lana's infidelity.

She grabs a heavy spanner and slashes him on the head. When that fails to kill him, she gives it to Luca to finish the job and he does before running away when he hears the sound of police sirens. At that point in comes Angelo who holds Dino to see if there's anything he can do and gets blood on him and, just as the police arrive, Lana grabs Angelo to make it look like he's trying to rape her to frame him for killing Dino. And it's all over for Angelo who's life will never be the same again, innocence lost forever and all because of the scheming (and previously sympathetic) Lana.

The second half opens six months later in a swanky club (the Beat Route) in the nearest big city with Lana, Luca and friends all living the high life on Dino's money, gambling, dancing and getting drunk. And then Dino's ghost appears to spoil the fun. Switch to county jail and Rita is visiting Angelo before being scared off and the prison guard starts to abuse Angelo. He's had enough by now and fights back, knocking out the guard, stealing his gun and shirt and escapes. The scene switches back to a gloomy and obviously dying Harmony as Angelo meets Rita and pushes her away since he's been changed by his time in jail, tries to find Lana and ends up shooting Luca. Retribution is tough in Harmony.

Just as the first half is all about eneregy and life, the second half is about consequences. And they are dark. It's a marvel of storytelling through dance and lifts the spirits only to crash them down but it's clear why that happens. Happy and sad. That's life, right?

I had the impossibly named Zizi Strallen as Lana (I saw her sister, Summer, in 'A Chorus Line' a couple of years ago) and Chris Trenfield as Luca, along with Dominic North as Angelo, Kate Lyons as Rita and Alan Vincent (who created the role of Luca in the original production of 'The Car Man') as Dino. It's a really great production taking you up into the highs only to let you plummet to the depths of emotion shortly afterwards. That's powerful dancing and storytelling. Go and see it if you can!

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