HULL NEW THEATRE, SATURDAY 27TH APRIL 2019
MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE – REVIEW
In all honesty, I’m unsure of where to start. I thought I had seen fantastic productions before but Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake managed to exceed all of my expectations and take number one spot as the best thing I’ve ever seen at a theatre. And I’ve seen a lot of shows and will continue to do so!
If you’ve never seen a Matthew Bourne/New Adventures production, he tends to take traditional ballets and completely revamp them. I’ve only seen his version of Swan Lake on Sky Arts before so I was excited to see it on stage for myself. I was blown away.
Usually at a ballet, I am looking out for stretched legs and pointed feet (you’d be surprised how much below-par technique I’ve seen from professional companies) but for two hours, I was drawn to faces and emotions instead of technique. That’s not to say that they had none, in fact the talent on stage was excellent, but instead I was transported into the storytelling, which can be difficult with a ballet.
Swan Lake is a firm favourite of mine as a traditional ballet so I’m always curious to see different companies put their own spin on a classic story and Matthew Bourne certainly does that. There are no tutus in sight, with just one character in pointe shoes in the entire production. The main difference is the mostly-male cast, with the women in a supporting role. By gender-swapping the principle roles, you get to see the men shine in their own light, rather than simply being a partner to their female leads.
In fact, the two main leads were the stars of the show. Liam Mower, playing the Prince, gave the performance of his life. I may be a little biased as I used to take dance classes alongside him pre-Billy Elliot the Musical and I’ve known him since we were young (my mum grew up as friends with his family too!) but he was spectacular. There were many of his family and friends in the audience as it was closing night of his first performance back in Hull but it felt like he added something a little extra into his performance. I’ve always enjoyed watching him dance but the way he portrayed the troubled prince made me see him in a new light. The emotion given to the role really took you in and everything he felt on stage, you felt in the audience. He moved with such fluidity and grace yet at the same time, you could feel his struggle as I sat proud in the audience.
His opposite, The Swan, played by Max Westwell, was equally as compelling. The intensity he added to the role really lifted the whole piece as soon as he appeared on stage. How someone can be so athletic yet graceful, I will never know, but he certainly was. His solos were choreographed perfectly to show off his best skills but he also blended along with the other swans during group pieces. His charisma, similar to that of Richard Winsor when he starred in the role, captivated the audience and you can see why the Prince would fall in love with him.
The highlight for me were the pas de deuxs between Mower and Westwell. Seeing two males as duet partners is definitely against the norm in ballet but Matthew Bourne is well known to push the boundaries. As a pair, they were simply breathtaking, both allowing one another to take centre stage whilst the other played a supporting role. The eye contact between them alone was enough to know the connection there was real. Together, they were soft and romantic but then intense and powerful. I was transfixed when they were dancing as a pair.
The other roles in the show were also cast perfectly. Unfortunately, the theatre had ran out of programmes and I couldn’t find a cast list anywhere but I think I found who was playing which role! The Girlfriend, played by Freya Field, added the majority of the humour for the evening but this didn’t take away from her dance ability whatsoever, merely gave her more of a starring role. The Queen, played by Katrina Lyndon, was also one to watch; not only was she stunning in every single costume but regal and graceful at all times. Her emotion at the end was also harrowing.
As someone who knows the steps to the Dance of the Little Swans off by heart, it was refreshing to see a new version with four men and added humour. The whole show had lots of laughs, again so unusual for most ballets, which only added to the show with lighter parts intertwined through all of that intesity. The bevy of around 15 swans moved in unison yet each seemed to each have their own personality to play.
The infusion of different dance styles shows just how much a fan of dance Bourne is. That’s why I’d love him to be the fourth judge on Strictly and I know he already loves the show! We had some flamenco, tango, waltz, 60s-style boogie, jazz Fosse-style, contemporary. I’ll admit it was odd to see the Twist being danced to Tchaikovsky’s score but it worked in the setting the dancers were in. Add to that the stunning sets and costuming, you can tell every single detail of this tour has been thought through.
It must have been well received because after the final curtain, the company took five sets of bows due to the admiration of the audience. It seems I wasn’t the only person there who was in awe of the whole production. Hats off to everyone involved in such a marvellous tour and may Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and his New Adventures company continue to entertain audiences for many years to come, even after 24 years going strong alread.
Now to see if I can fit into my old pointe shoes again! You can catch the end of the tour, with dates shown here.
*Press photography has been used in this review.