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Matthew Bourne’s THE CAR MAN Review


The Bristol Hippodrome

Tuesday 19th – Saturday 23rd May 2015

Full frontal nudity, a bi-sexual stranger and a lot of blood and sweat just about sums up MATTHEW BOURNE‘S award-winning contemporary ballet THE CAR MAN. Although it is believed to be a modern re-make of Bizet’s famous opera Carmen, the plot of Bourne’s The Car Man actually has more in common with James M. Cains’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Certainly, the common themes in all of these works of lust, betrayal, greed and revenge are used to fuel the performance!


In this Matthew Bourne version, the 19th century Spanish cigarette factory has been replaced with a 1960s all American garage-diner. The arrival of a handsome stranger Luca (played by Chris Trenfield), sets in motion a series of events which shatters the hopes and dreams of the small town of Harmony.



Before the show begins, the cast gradually assemble on stage taking up their various jobs in the garage. An angle grinder can be seen cutting car parts and the stage comes to life before our eyes. A man carrying a backpack walks on and the show begins.

Scene one

A frenzy of dancing starts the act. We meet the mechanics in the garage and the owner Dino (played Alan Vincent). His beautiful wife Lana (Zizi Strallen) and her sister Rita (Katy Lowenhoff) run the diner, always watchful for the wandering hands of Dino. Rita has a soft spot for the odd job man Angelo (Dominic North) and spends time flirting with him. The stranger is hired by Dino to help him out in the garage. There is a certain amount of attraction between him and Lana.

At the end of the act the siren goes off and the men run upstairs for a shower. Cue the first bit of nudity!!

Scene two

Two weeks later and the heat has risen in the small town. Whilst Dino is away, Luca and Lana get together. This leads to one of the most erotic scenes in the show. The cast couple up and perform acts of lust on various different positions. With red lighting and powerful music it needs little imagination to work out what is going on! Dino returns and almost catches his wife in the act. Luca escapes. The scene then shifts to a shaking car in the garage and once again it is clear that a “good time” is being had! Luca emerges, somewhat dishevelled, from the car, followed unexpectedly by Angelo. The scene ends with Angelo and Lana both dancing in joy at their memories of their encounters with Luca.

MATTHEW BOURNE, ballet, CAR MAN, Review, Bristol Hippodrome, theatre, dance

Scene three

At a wedding reception both Lana and Angelo are vying for Lucas’ attention, unaware that the other is sleeping with him. Dino becomes increasingly suspicious. Luca and Lana escape to the garage to continue their affair but Dino discovers them. In the fight that ensues Lana hits Dino over the head with a large spanner. Thinking he is dead, they run away. Angelo then appears at the garage, looking for Luca. Dino manages to crawl out of the office and grab Angelo in a plea for help. Angelo is smeared with Dino’s blood as he tries to help him. The police arrive and Lana, seeing her chance, accuses Angelo of killing Dino. Angelo is arrested.

Six months later)

Scene one

We now re-locate to a cool club called “Le Beat-Route” owned by Shirley (played by Nicole Kabera). Luca and Lana, who have come into money, enter the club with friends. A strange cabaret performs a funny scene which has echoes of the murder. Unnerved by this Luca begins to drink and gamble heavily before getting violent with Lana.

Scene two

Rita, Angelo’s friend from the diner, visits the county jailhouse where he’s an inmate and tells Angelo that she witnessed the fight in which Lana and Luca killed Dino. Angelo is furious and flings a chair across the visiting room. The warden appears but instead of returning Angelo to his cell, he strips off Angelo’s shirt. It is obvious that he intends to rape Angelo. They perform an erotic dance. Angelo overpowers the warden and slams his head into a wall, knocking him out cold. Angelo drags his body into an empty cell, takes his gun, snatches the warden’s uniform shirt and cap from a hook on the wall and escapes from jail.

Scene three

Back at Le Beat-Route, Luca has been drinking heavily again. He gets flashbacks of Dino with blood pouring from his head. A dance follows, with both men ending up covered in blood.


Scene four

Dino’s garage is up for sale. Angelo returns with a haunted look and takes Rita hostage whilst he waits for Lana and Luca to return. On their return, they pull down the shutters of the diner but seeing the word “MURDERER” in red paint they quickly push it up again. The rest of the men take part in a bare-knuckle fighting competition.

MATTHEW BOURNE, ballet, CAR MAN, Review, Bristol Hippodrome, theatre, dance

Lana goes up to her apartment and a shot rings out. Angelo now has Rita and Lana as hostages. Angelo attacks Luca, the gun is wrestled to the ground and in the struggle, Lana shoots Luca. The mechanics bury Lucas’s body and a large sign appears stating “You are now leaving Harmony. See you again soon!”


The dancing is what you come to expect from Matthew Bourne – strong male dancers taking the lead in powerful ensemble pieces. There’s a strong erotic undercurrent running through the show. Many of the pas de deux either feature or become an act of sexual intercourse. The sometimes shockingly direct body language is not for the faint hearted!

Bourne is also a master of comedy and there are some lighter moments with the wiggling of bums or the use of bread dough to ease the tension. There are often times when there’s so much going on you don’t know where to look! The dancing is non-stop and at times takes my breath away. Clever choreography and amazing dancing means you can’t take your eyes off the stage.


The set is relatively simple, but conveys the time period brilliantly. The two fronts of cars were used to great effect, along with the retro petrol pumps. The office/apartment transforms into the prison and the showers effortlessly. The dancers use every inch of the set, even climbing up and down the pipes. The lighting also plays a big part in changing the mood on stage. A red light illuminates the erotic scene, while a darker scene is used to show the dreadful conditions in the jail.


The music for the production is based on Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875) with additional music by composer Terry Davies. The movement and music go together beautifully. It’s great to hear the familiar “Carmen” melodies and the newer compositions move the story along at pace.


This is not a show you would take children to – guidelines recommend 12 upwards but we feel that the adult themes would be better suited to older children of at least 13 or 14 years plus. The full frontal male nudity within the first ten minutes comes as a bit of a surprise but it’s really the themes of lust, infidelity and violence which would not be suitable for children.


Tuesday 19th- Saturday 23rd May

Evenings at 7:30pm

Matinees on Thu and Sat at 2:30pm

Tickets £16.90-£44.40

Many thanks to my friend Karley Hughes, who runs the on-line dance wear shop BalletBallet for writing this great review.

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