Sunday, 19 February 2017

Matthew Bourne's 'Early Adventures' at Richmond Theatre

Before I discovered the joys of the Royal Ballet there was Matthew Bourne, now Sir Matthew Bourne. I like the characters he creates, his narrative and his magic. He seems to come up with a new production every few years but doesn't forget his older works and that's what 'Early Adventures' is, a revival of some of his very early creations. I saw the show five years ago and I'm more than happy to see it again, particularly since this version included 'Watch With Mother' a short dance work I haven't seen before and which seems to be alternating with 'Spitfire'.

The first production was 'Watch With Mother'. You need to be a certain age to understand the title and, luckily, I am. It's set in a school gym with all the boys in grey shorts and the girls in grey pinafores, the way it was in posh schools. The incongruous thing was the boys were wearing polo shirts rather than button-up shirts (I can't help but notice details). And we see the 'children' dance in different ways and different combinations with one boy left out because  there are nine children.

This production is, I think, from 1991 so doesn't have the subtlety of Bourne's later works. There is a lot of repetition and choreographed movement and is a bit simplistic compared to other works. It's probably the least successful of the programme but is still well worth seeing as an indication of where the later works came from.

'Town and Country' is the second production, with 'Town' filling up the first half of the programme after 'Watch'. This is a joyous interpretation of life in the city - at least for rich people. We see a couple bathed and then dressed by their servants in a very funny sequence with the servants coming off best despite ending up serenading their master and mistress with ukuleles.

One of my favourite scenes was the short skit on 'Brief Encounters', the epitome of a middle class film with posh people with money. The entire film is portrayed in that tea room on the station platform with two sets of couple mimicking the film.

The second half of the production is taken up entirely with 'Country' from 'Town and Country'. The posh people go down to the country for the weekend and interact with the local yokels when they have to. We get dancing milk maids and clog dancing yokels, one of which stomps on a glove puppet hedgehog to all our dismay. The bunny checks the hedgehog and then slowly drags him from the stage. This is a lovely comic moment, particularly when, later in the show, the hedgehog gets a solemn funeral.

The final half was taken up by 'The Infernal Gallop', a tale of night-life in the sleazier areas of Paris, with posh blokes in silk dressing gowns meeting sailors and chaps meeting in a pissoire within view of the Eiffel Tower. Our pissoire lovers are just about to get it on when they're interrupted by a troupe of gypsy minstrels in red berets springing onto the stage and singing at them. And then it happens again. The lovers just aren't destined to get off tonight. O well, it can't be helped, I suppose.

That's the finale of the show, with our Parisian denizens showered by rose petals and the show is over. It's a great and entertaining mix of dance and sorry-telling, humour and sentiment. It's lovely to see these early works that set the scene for Matthew Bourne's full length ballets.

'Early Adventures' is currently on a national tour so if you get the chance to see it then you should. It's great fun as well as great story-telling and dancing.

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