The grittiest work in Bourne’s repertoire, The Car Man returns to Sadler’s Wells after a new UK tour, bringing its stifling heat, brutal murder and deadly revenge to the capital’s leading dance venue. Flesh is flashed, sweat drips, blood is spilled and the pulsating beat of the music drives this electric performance through to its violent conclusion.
Inspired by Carmen (but with a plot loosely based on The Postman Always Rings Twice) the show takes the core elements of Bizet’s score and adds new music by Terry Davies, producing a soundscape that retains the Spanish passion of Bizet, with additional contemporary flavours – a dynamic mix that is rendered wonderfully by musical director Brett Morris and his orchestra. Bourne’s spectacular choreography follows a similar model, encompassing diverse elements of flamenco, Jerome Robbins-esque Broadway styles, contemporary dance, ballet and even comedic mime, sweeping the audience along from one emotion to another. There is also plenty of comedy and wit, notably the hilarious shower scene early on.
From the testosterone-fuelled opening to tender pas de deux, the cast of the New Adventures are all on top form. As Luca, Chris Trenfield is masterful, elegant and powerful – the catalyst for the drama as, brooding and charismatic, he flirts with the women and frustrates the men. My only gripe is that this character doesn’t have more choreographic content, as his undeniable talent deserves more exposure in this piece. His duets with Zizi Strallen (Lana) are nonetheless full of passion and artistry and are impossible to drag your eyes from.
As femme fatale Lana, Zizi Strallen is all flirtatious sass and sizzle in Act I, and shows maturity with some wonderful sequences in Act II. However, for me the understated stars of the show are Liam Mower (previously of Billy Elliot fame) as the put-upon Angelo and his initial love interest Rita (Kate Lyons): collateral damage of the lustful violence of Lana and Luca, they both give touching performances, with Mower’s heart-rending solo in prison a highlight, and Lyons creating some gorgeous lines.
Lez Brotherston’s design brings a cinematic feel to the piece, enabling layers of simultaneous action that guarantee this thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat: without a single word, The Car Man propels its narrative more powerfully than many a piece of spoken drama.
A sensual feast for the eyes and ears, fifteen years on from its premiere The Car Man is still full of exciting urgency – captivating and unmissable.
The Car Man is playing at Sadler’s Wells until 9 August. For tickets and more information visit the Sadler’s Wells website. Photo by Sadler’s Wells.