Published: 00:00, 03 June 2015
| Updated: 09:36, 03 June 2015
Having never seen Bizet's opera Carmen before, I came to Matthew Bourne's cleverly re-imagined contemporary piece The Car Man with an entirely open mind.
The publicity images left me in no doubt we were in for a steamy version of events set in a smalltown American community in the 1960s. How explicit that would get in parts I'd taken a guess at, and soon I was sure glad I'd left my teenage daughter at home and brought along a friend instead.
The atmospheric set features a 'Welcome to Harmony' sign, informing us it has a population of 375. An extraordinarily good-looking and highly-sexed population with, we quickly learn, a dark and cruel side when it comes to constant bullying and violence towards Angelo, the slightly-built hired help of garage and diner owner Dino and the object of affection to Rita, the less glamorous little sister of Dino's unfaithful wife, Lana.
Highly entertaining and full of energy, colour and drama from the get-go, we were treated to a voyeuristic view of the grease-monkey mechanics' showers when they knocked off from their sweaty work at the garage for the day, full of machismo and minds racing to the eager girls and bottled beer at Dino's diner.
A cheer went up for a Full Monty moment as one brawny guy whipped away his towel as he retreated to the showers, but amid the merry-making that ensued at Dino's the scene had very effectively been set for the tensions that lay just beneath the surface in Harmony, where cuckolded Dino (Alan Vincent), victimised Angelo (Liam Mower) and devoted Rita (Katy Lowenhoff) are surrounded by horny, hedonistic hordes, and none more so than attention-seeking seductress Lana (Ashley Shaw) who sets her sights on the magnetic new Alpha male in town, Luca (Chris Trenfield).
Very free with his sexual attentions, obsessions are whipped up and suspicions are raised within the small community, fanned by the scorching summer heat and heightened by the thrilling musical score composed by Terry Davies based on Bizet's Carmen.
The themes of infatuation, betrayal, loyalty and misplaced devotion build to a violent climax by the end of Act One, and to say much more about the second half would give the game away.
Suffice to say the comic opening scene of Act Two is as much light-hearted fun as you're going to get; from here on in, it's much haunting despair, sexual violence, jeering and brawling - though interspersed with some beautiful, emotional dance duets - as things fall apart and the twisted town turns back in on itself.
While I found the second half a bit too heavy for my sensibilities, it remains the clever characterisation, exquisite dancing, superb choreography, stunning music and gripping storytelling that are my overriding memories of the performance.
Matthew Bourne's The Car Man is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre until Saturday, June 6. Tickets cost from £17. Visit www.marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.
More by this authorJo Roberts
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