Review: Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 19 - 26 May 2012
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 23 May 2012

New Adventures Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures - 'Spitfire'. Photo Roy Tan

Spitfire / Town & Country / The Infernal Galop
Reviewed: 22 May 2012

I imagine that Matthew Bourne’s earliest adventures involved a radiogram, permanently set to the Light Programme and dishing out jolly instrumental tunes. One conjures the image of young Bourne, in shorts and long socks, playing with his tin soldiers and sailors on the lounge carpet as mother gaily irons away with the dial set permanently on Music While You Work. As Noel Coward says in a song featured in Town & Country life back then was “gay and sweet and terribly exciting”.

Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures revisits a trio of works he made between 1988 and 1991, to celebrate his 25 years in dance making. In this remastered format for the digital age each piece easily withstands the test of time, most notably in that their strong sense of humour is retained. That it remains very funny derives from keen satirical observation merged with some good-old seaside postcard humour. Gentle fun is poked at nineteenth century classical ballet in Spitfire, a parody of a grand pas de deux in the form of a pas de quatre for four men, sporting stiff brylcreemed hair while advertising brilliant white underwear (a whole catalogue range of string vests, Y-fronts, boxers and long johns). With a patchwork of familiar pas de deux tunes from Glazunov and Minkus, the four performers satirised the aloof, elitist occupational “look at me” requirement that is common to both ballet principals and fashion models.

The balletic target moved into the following century with Town & Country , easily the longest of these works, with the first half evoking Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country and the second his La Fille Mal Gardée (complete with farmyard and clog dance). The Town scenes included an interpretation of the film Brief Encounter that ran through the love affair’s key scenes (the first meeting where Alec removes grit from Laura’s eye, the cinema matinee, the railway canteen and, of course, Celia Johnson’s hat) in just a couple of minutes. It also served to remind us that Bourne’s device of doubling up characters has been around for awhile! The “Townies” also featured a growing gay romance and some bathing and scooting; while the country cousins managed to be ‘Gay but Wistful’ while amusing some furry friends (aka glove puppets), although the fox (of course) was to be hunted and the poor hedgehog was trampled underfoot in the clog dance! All the while, the carefree music of Elgar, Eric Coates, Noel Coward and Percy Grainger brought back memories of times when there was a Light programme and life was “gay and sweet”.

The leaning pissoir of Paris dominated Lez Brotherston’s set for The Infernal Galop (in fact, the basic set structure did for all three works) and his costume designs came into their own in this tour through the popular French songs of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and others, which the young Bourne would have been listening to had the lounge carpet of his youth been in Paris and not Hackney. The funniest dance routine concerned the amorous intentions of two cottaging guys being continually thwarted by an itinerant street party.

As well as showing that the polish has not worn thin on some of Bourne’s earliest material, this programme provided an excellent excuse for an ensemble of nine outstanding and charismatic dancers (six men and three women) to have a ball while they entertained us. Many of these dancers have been with Bourne for several years (Kerry Biggin, Christopher Marney, Dominic North and Drew McOnie) and one sensed that this celebration was as much for them and their predecessors as it was for the choreographer himself. It was gay. It was sweet. It was terrific fun. I won’t remember much of the choreography in a week or so but the comedy in this silver jubilee of Bourne will certainly bring back a chuckle for a good while to come.

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until Sat 26 May 2012

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