Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – Review

This review also appears in the Western Park Gazette

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE. 15-12-2009Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake had many audience members walking out of theatres when it was first performed at Sadler’s Wells in 1995, shocked by his brave re-telling of the classic ballet.

Bourne’s Swan Lake now comes to Curve with an armoury of credentials: creator of the world’s longest running ballet, five time Olivier award winner and an army of devoted fans across the globe.

From the poignant opening scene with the young Prince craving the Queen’s love to his journey from loneliness through to finding love and acceptance this is an emotional and powerful story.  Bourne’s Swan Lake is often erroneously referred to as the all-male version – the swan ensemble is clearly masculine but there are also vital female roles with The Queen (an aloof Madelaine Brennan) and The Girlfriend (a wonderfully ditzy but endearing Anjali Mehra) as well as members of the ensemble.

Much has already been written about this ballet, frequently described as majestic, menacing and homoerotic. I found it all of these things – the scenes with the swans are absorbing; muscled male torsos and feathered breeches a primal representation of these enigmatic birds. And these are mute swans, their menace heightened by sporadic hissing during Act 2 A City Park.

Act 4, the final scene in The Prince’s Bedroom is chilling and it comes as no surprise to learn Bourne was inspired by scenes from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE. 15-12-2009Key to this ballet though is The Swan, performed with a combination of grace, power and swagger by Jonathan Ollivier. His cocksure performance is tempered by Sam Archer’s more delicate portrayal of The Prince and together they portray a touching and gentle relationship.

Lez Brotherston’s longstanding partnership with Bourne has produced many awards and his set and costume design in this production are stunning. The Prince’s loneliness is depicted by the fortress-like Palace, the costumes for the Royal Ball exude glamour, glitz and sex perfectly matching the erotic routines. Rick Fisher’s lighting design, particularly use of shadow in Act 4 is mesmerising.

Tchaikovsky’s score is memorable in its own right but to hear his music re-interpreted adds more layers – the scene at the Swank club was inspiring with disco dancing to Tchaikovsky seemingly the most natural thing to do.

Swan Lake is at Curve between 4 and 9 November and is a sell-out. If you’ve not got a ticket put your name down for a return. Now.

Images by Bill Cooper

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