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The Car Man - choreography by Matthew Bourne
Adventures in Motion Pictures


I planned to see yet another AMP production, ‘The Car Man’, at the Old Vic - I arrived very early to try to get a cheap ticket. Being unemployed, I was entitled to buy a discounted ticket for a seat in the expensive stalls, which were full of old rich American couples from provincial America, but then there are some Americans who are very out-of-town in their attitude. My seat had a "RESERVED" notice on it, so I felt important. I could see my neighbours trying to identify which famous film star or other important personage I was. During the interval, I walked around looking for ghosts of the theatre; Gielgud played his first Hamlet in 1930; Olivier played Richard III in 1944. But I was most attracted by the beautiful atmosphere and some theatrical pictures hanging on the walls, very emotional for me, but I hope the place will still be the same after restoration.

This magnificent, historical theatre opened in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre. In 1833 it was re-named (in honour of the then Princess Victoria) the Royal Victoria Hall, but it has since become know in affectionate local slang as the Old Vic. It is also popularly know as "The Home of Shakespeare" (it was where Richard Burton began his Shakespearean career). In 1950, the Old Vic Company with Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson led to the foundation of the National Theatre (now the Royal National Theatre) in 1963, with Olivier as its Artistic Director. It is also know as "The Actors' Theatre", having had the likes of Alec Guinness, Vivien Leigh, and Michael Redgrave tread its boards. More recently, Peter O'Toole was seen in ‘Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell’ and Kevin Spacey appeared in ‘The Iceman Cometh’. In 1997 the theatre was put up for sale but it was saved by a charitable trust. Alex Bernstein, the chairman, director Stephen Daldry, actor Kevin Spacey, and impresario Sally Green, with the help of many sponsors from the UK and USA, managed to save the Theatre, which is known as the "greatest actors' stage in the world".

‘The Car Man’ anticipates a new era at the Old Vic and will be the new home of the 13-years old company Adventures in Motion Pictures (admin@amp.uk.com). ‘The Car Man’ is its curtain-raiser, to be followed by six new works; an exciting collaboration because, as I said, AMP is famous for taking classical ballet into a new dimension of fables with a modern resonance and universal appeal, notorious in its sexually-threatening approach, as evidenced by the 'gay' Swan Lake. But, because the productions generally have great humour and are erotic, they may become very popular.

In the Radio 4 programme, Matthew Bourne explained why Carmen became ‘The Car Man’, sub-titled ‘An Auto-Erotic Thriller’, set in a mid-western American community in the early sixties, ironically named Harmony. The character of Luca, played by actor and dancer Will Kemp, a mechanic, newly-arrived in the town, is really The Car Man, based on Bizet's ‘Carmen’. It was re-conceived by Rodion Schedrin as a suite for strings and percussion, with music by Terry Davies (www.terrydavies.com), and ingenious sound-effects conducted by Brett Morris. The original has been re-orchestrated.

It was inspired not only by Bizet's opera, but also by Tay Garnett’s classic 1946 film noir ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name, starring Lana Turner and John Garfield (remade in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange). It is a dance version of the film set in a car repair garage. You can smell the grime as sweaty, tough-guy mechanics hammer away at greasy engines, distracted only by languorous girls trying to cool-off. The lusty young men and women work by day and love by night, slithering around each other's bodies in exotic contortions, sweltering and noisy. The new mechanic has a great impact, with his popping muscles and sinewy shamelessness. The drama unfolds as the infatuated couple conspire to murder her husband, the owner of the garage. It is a powerful work with its cinematic references including Hitchcockian suspense, flashbacks, hallucinations, film noir claustrophobia and a daredevil James Dean-style car chase. The drama intensifies as the lover escapes from jail and returns to the town to find that the stranger, who had a homosexual affair with him (the audience gasped at learning this), now had affairs in his absence with both men and women. He goes demented in a stupor brought on by booze and guilt - a potent mix of remorse, anger and jealousy! The brilliant set by Lez Brotherston reveals some of his most versatile work, with two tiered sets built for instant scene changes, transforming a city dive into a prison and back again into a garage. It all the production is a vital drama, exuding both tensions and humour all the way. Really great.

Verinha Ottoni


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