Swan Lake

Choreographed and directed by Matthew Bourne
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring

Production photo

What more can be said about Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake? The shock of the male swans and the ire at the liberties taken with the story, the disgust of some at its perceived homoeroticism, all are now in the past and the piece is, as the programme note calls it, a "modern classic". What more can the poor critic say?

Yes, Bourne has made changes (but not major) and, of course, the cast has changed (and continues to change) but for the critic to talk about those (s)he needs to be au fait with the original and every revival, something that those of us in the North East (for example), where it has not been seen for thirteen years, unfortunately have not had the opportunity to do.

We can make minor points of comparison: its last (and first!) appearance at the Theatre Royal had the audience on its feet at the end but at last night's performance only a portion stood to applaud, although the reception was enthusiastic. It's gone from being a shock to a favourite.

Listening to comments afterwards - inside and outside the theatre, on the Metro on the way home - there were those who were seeing it for the first time and even some who thought they were going to a "traditional" version, but they were full of it, enthusiastic and knocked out. One lady, who had obviously been taken by her granddaughter and knew only the traditional version, said, "I wondered how they would do the cygnets, but it was great!"

For most, however, the shock has gone but the power remains. There is pathos, humour (indeed, hilarity at times), yearning for love, fear and tragedy. Very Shakespearean! It's a deeply moving piece.

The second time around, one tends to see little things: the prince runs his fingers along the railings as the harp begins to play - a touch of (wry) humour; the occasional raised eyebrow or other gesture at the audience from a member of the corps de ballet. Little things indeed, but indicative of the careful attention to every detail and the total involvement of the performers.

It's not ballet, Bourne insists, and of course he's right. If we must characterise (or pigeonhole) it, it's dance theatre. And there's much in it that, with hindsight, we can see as typically Bourne moments - and ideas which I have since seen used by other choreographers. Seminal as well as classic!

It's at the Theatre Royal until 27th March. There are some seats left, but not many and they tend to be restricted view but if you haven't already seen it, it's a good idea to try for returns.

"Swan Lake" goes on to the Alhambra, Bradford, where it plays from 29th March to 3rd April, the final stop on the tour.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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