Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake review: It left me genuinely speechless

PUBLISHED: 09:02 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:02 04 April 2019

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is currently at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Credit: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is currently at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Credit: Johan Persson

Johan Persson

It must be nice to be so talented you’ve made a rod for your own back.

Will Bozier as the Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Credit: Johan PerssonWill Bozier as the Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Credit: Johan Persson

Because this is the problem Matthew Bourne has. His production of Swan Lake has stuck in the minds of the dance industry as so original, so innovative and as a result, so iconic, that it’s a near-impossible feat to top what he created back in 1995.

And yet, the latest New Adventures production is as astonishing – if not more so – than any of its previous iterations.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a number of Matthew Bourne’s productions; Cinderella, the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and my previous favourite of his, Sleeping Beauty.

But Swan Lake’s opening night blew all of that – pardon the pun – out of the water.

Swan Lake, the Legend Returns. Credit: Johan PerssonSwan Lake, the Legend Returns. Credit: Johan Persson

The story has moved on from its last run; a young prince (Dominic North) squirms under the pressure of his stony mother (Nicole Kabera).

He looks for an escape in the arms of his cheerful but airhead girlfriend (Freya Field), but finds none, leading him to the edges of a lake where we are lead to believe he will drown himself.

Here he encounters the Swan (Will Bozier), who restores his reason for living.

In act two, the Swan appears at a royal ball and seduces every woman in the room, while stoically ignoring the prince.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Photo: Johan PerssonMatthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Photo: Johan Persson

The prince is driven to madness, and we slowly see reality and imagination converge until all that’s left is a young man, dead in his bed, with his mother weeping over him.

The story is heartbreaking, but unnecessary to enjoy this masterful performance.

Bourne’s choreography sees classic shapes inverted; the typical soft, fluttering arms of the swans hardened into boxy fifth-positions and of course, the classic backwards bow-and-arrow arm positioning.

Larger moves, spins and leaps, are often counterweighted with a backwards bend of the torso or the swing of an arm.

It makes the movement look raw, perfectly unbalanced.

Bourne has also pulled the choreography into 2019. The dance of the four cygnets sees drag-like moves peppered into a fantastic piece of physical theatre, with the cygnets stamping in time to the famous movement.

This physical theatre is a new element to Swan Lake which works well. The dancers have been encouraged to break down the fourth wall - directly looking to the audience for support in comedic moments, and pinning them with stares in the fiercer pieces.

The dancers have also been encouraged to make noise on stage, whether it’s a stamp or more interestingly, a hiss to replicate the sound of an agitated swan.

In a company like this it’s not necessary to have a star performance, so it’s testimony to Will Bozier that his talent stood out as exceptionally as it did.

A woman behind me in the audience accidentally said “wow” out loud so many times during his solos, that her daughter ended up telling her off in the interval.

But I don’t blame her, when the curtain came down I was genuinely speechless.

If you think you’ve seen this before, you haven’t.

If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at Norwich’s Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 6. Currently all performances except for a matinee on April 4 are sold out.

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