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BWW Review: MATTHEW BOURNE'S THE CAR MAN, Sky ArtsIn the third and final installment of Reel Adventures-A Festival of Classics, the wonderful Matthew Bourne's The Car Man celebrated its 20th anniversary last night with a screening on Sky Arts. Set in an Italian-American community in sixties America, the story owes more to film noir influences and the story of The Postman Always Rings Twice than Bizet's opera.

Set to an adaptation by Terry Davies of the music from Bizet's Carmen, a stranger called Luca arrives in a town called Harmony and takes a job in a local garage owned by Dino. Luca is 'the car man', and it's not long before the sexual tension overflows and he starts a torrid affair with Dino's wife, Lana. However, this isn't quite enough to satisfy Luca's sexual appetite and it isn't long before he moves onto Angelo, a sensitive young mechanic. Dino is then killed and Angelo implicated, leading eventually to a kind of moral justice.

Christopher Trenfield is wonderfully seductive as Luca, with real conviction in his swagger and sexual confidence. Zizi Strallen is convincing as the bored Lana; her movements are sinuous and seductive. Her sexual stirring at Luca's arrival is palpable and the sex scenes between them are breathless and beautifully choreographed. Indeed, sex is everywhere; as Luca and Lana get busy, so do several other couples around the stage, bathed in a cheap-looking red light. It feels claustrophobic, breathless and tinged with danger.

Dominic North has the most interesting character arc and begins as vulnerable and naïve as Angelo. Coupled with a sensitive and beautifully balletic Kate Lyons as Lana's sister Rita, they seem destined for a more traditional romance until the murder is committed and Angelo is imprisoned. North physically contrasts the other male members of the cast with a slimmer, more wiry build. He is particularly good in his solo after he is imprisoned; with his hands still bound, his fluid movements show the weight of his pain upon his body and also a new desire for revenge as he is brutalised by the system.

The remainder of the cast is also excellent. Alan Vincent, who played the original Luca in 2000, is very good as the frustrated and betrayed Dino. The heat from both the weather and the sexual desire of the cast is palpable. The production is brimming with lust, violence and passion. The cast of male mechanics are fevered under the pressure cooker of the hot sun and their basest sexual urges. They are brutal, boorish, showing the worst elements of machismo. Their fighting is brutal and very credible, with sweeping jumps and sharp arm movements.

The score is based on a reworking of Bizet's score by Rodion Shchedrin. Bourne then worked with Davis to expand and create a score that he tailored to fit his vision and it shows. It is testament to the skill of Bourne that the flow of this production remains consistent throughout; the dancers are allowed to narrate the story entirely through movement and it is always clear what they are conveying. The result is shocking, slick and immersive, but still brimming with emotion.

The 'Habanera' is used to introduce Luca; as suggestion of his lustful personality and adept seduction techniques. The opera's most famous arias are used skilfully to facilitate the dancers' movement and there are reminders of flamenco with some sections of movement and the shouts and foot stamps of the cast at points.

Lez Brotherston's fantastic two-tier set portrays a 1960s small-town America; a run-down diner, a greasy garage, then a sleazy nightclub that morphs into a prison with slick transformations, aided by Chris Davey's atmospheric lighting. The direction of the filming is slick and feels suitably cinematic.

This is a brilliant screening of one of Bourne's best and most immersive works; capturing the very best of the very talented cast. Catch it while you can.

Matthew Bourne's The Car Man is available on Sky Arts on demand

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan