Review: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at the Bristol HIppodrome, May 2014

Chris Trenfield in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Chris Trenfield in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

First published in Theatre
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Gazette Series: Photograph of the Author by , arts and what's on editor

THE Bristol Hippodrome was certainly ready for a ‘New Adventure’ last night, as Matthew Bourne at last brought his groundbreaking production of Swan Lake to the historic theatre, 18 years after the conroversial show – which has now won more than thirty international theatre awards - was first seen at Sadlers’ Wells.

Many of those in the packed theatre were expecting something amazing, having witnessed Cinderella, The Nutcracker and last year’s Sleeping Beauty at the historic venue; although few were expecting such a breathtaking spectacle.

With its foundations in Tchaikovsky’s almighty ballet score, the production is strong from the start, although it is not long before the traditional story is turned on its head.

The truly controversial element of the production is that the traditional swans have been replaced with an all-male corps de ballet; so anyone still expecting the swans to be in tutus is in for one hell of a shock. The swans are muscled, sweaty and beautiful men, their naked torsos shining in the spotlight with the sweat that their efforts demand. However it is Chris Trenfield, in his roles of Swan/Stranger who steals the show.

It is a common misconception that Swan Lake is performed by an all-male cast, but in fact some of the key roles are taken by women, and the Queen (Saranne Curtin) and the comedy princess (Anjali Mehra) in particular deserve special mentions for their efforts. In fact, all the hard-working girls in the ensemble take on multiple roles throughout the performance, and respect must surely be given to them.

As always in a Matthew Bourne production the lighting and set are integral to the performance. From the massive bed in the palace to the seedy ‘Swank’ bar, every detail is carefully considered. Even the butterfly costumes for the ballerinas in the First Act’s ‘ballet within a ballet’ are some of the most beautiful I have seen. Lez Brotherston’s award-winning designs catch the eye almost as much as the dancers themselves.

Parody and outright comedy go hand in hand with tragedy in Swan Lake, and this particular reworking exudes confidence and maturity; last night’s standing ovation was spontaneous and well deserved.

Do not come to see this production of Swan Lake expecting tutus – although there are tiaras! – but do prepare to be bedazzled in the most unexpected of ways.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan luck runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, May 24.

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