The Car Man – based on Bizet’s Carmen – set in 1950s America, is Matthew Bourne’s take on the fiery tale of desire, passion and betrayal. Basically, a lack of morals all round!
Set in a small-town garage, instead of soldiers we have very raucous car mechanics and the factory girls of Bizet are the local girls who hang around the café. Carmen in this case is the flighty wife of the older garage owner, the Car Man of the title a visiting mechanic looking for work.
Saddlers Wells dancers are sensational, of course, the routines fast, exciting and fantastically athletic – you cannot believe their stamina to keep this pace going throughout. The basic story of Carmen is there, all the girls tease the men provocatively, Carmen loathes her drunken, boorish husband and craves excitement, then a handsome stranger comes to town to stir things up. Ultimately, it ends in tragedy. The starting titles for this live broadcast say “suitable for age 12+ years”. My personal view? There is no way I would take anyone under 18 (well, 16 I suppose!) as the whole performance is sexually charged with underlying themes of violence and simulated sex to music throughout.
There are some brilliant touches you would expect from Bourne, including a spoof mini-ballet (like his Swan Lake production) in the nightclub the main characters looking on, bored, as three dancers ham it up with lots of exaggerated airy-fairy hand movements! There is also a great scene of the mechanics in the shower after work, lots of steam and a strategically placed narrow board to protect their modesty. However, the prison scene is disturbing to watch, and a Banquo’s Ghost routine very creepy.
All-round superb performances from the whole cast, the high-octane acrobatic routines leading to violence, murder or sultry lovemaking in the sweat-inducing heat. Homosexuality is a strong underlying theme, as you would expect from Matthew Bourne’s interpretation, but overall it was a fantastic performance with all the wonderful music of Bizet thrown in.