The Car Man at the Royal Albert Hall
Sir Matthew Bourne’s dance thriller, The Car Man makes a return to the stage – and what a stage it returns to. The Royal Albert Hall is a stunning setting for this stunning show.
The Car Man is an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera, Carmen, using the same music but telling a different story: that of a small American town named Harmony, which turns out to be anything but harmonious.
It shouldn’t work, staging a 19th century French opera in 1960s America. Taking the melodic composition and making it the soundtrack for gruff mechanics and dirty diners, ugly telephone pylons and more denim than a Levi’s commercial, it’s a crazy, weird, stupid idea, which Matthew Bourne was, no doubt, told 22 years ago when he first created The Car Man. And yet it does work. Somehow, car grease does go hand-in-hand with Habanera, and Toreador does fit with vintage Coca-Cola signage – perhaps because the plot isn’t altogether wildly different from Carmen, with lust, passion, revenge and murder all still key components.
As if blending two periods together wasn’t enough for Bourne, the dancing pulsates with a more modern energy against the backdrop of the 1960s to the soundtrack of the 1870s. This is not a delicate, fantastical piece but something a whole lot more gritty and aggressive, dripping with sex. It’s gripping, raw and, at times, utterly savage.
The Car Man isn’t entirely without problems. It’s an odd choice to hide the orchestra behind a screen, as if they’re trying to relegate the music and imply they could have done this to any old soundtrack – they just happened to pick an 1800s opera. There are some strange filmed close-ups of main characters Luca and Lana, hers, the face of a person who doesn’t know the word subtlety (over-the-top and silly), his the face of a person who doesn’t know words (confused and gormless). Furthermore, some of the story feels like filler, like the show was created around particular scenes and the rest is just building up to those – some of it necessary, some of it not.
One can pick holes in it all they like but the truth is this show is big, it’s epic, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful and it’s in the Royal Albert Hall. There’s just no way you don’t enjoy this.
All in all, The Car Man is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of dance with just enough designer stubble. And as it’s probably more accessible than your average Carmen, it’s certainly an interesting way to experience the music of Bizet.
The Car Man is at the Royal Albert Hall from 9th June until 19th June 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.