Swan Lake

Reviewer's Rating

Like thousands of other little girls, my sister knew she wanted to be a ballet dancer as soon as she watched Swan Lake.  Your reviewer was not gripped by a similar ambition.  The pupils at his boys’ school would have ridiculed the very idea.  Ballet was for girls and sissies. Not any more. Billy Elliott has got a lot to do with the change of attitude, but so too does Matthew Bourne.  His ground-breaking production of Swan Lake in 1995 featured men as the swans.  Of course, what captivated my sister was the fact that all the swans were ballerinas.  But this 2018 revival of the original production, now on tour, demonstrates beyond a doubt that Bourne’s bold break with tradition really works.  Last night, the audience agreed. The New Wimbledon Theatre has been pretty full of late, with a string of successful musicals. But last night it was packed to capacity, and there was no hesitation when the cast took their curtain call at the end.  The audience rose to their feet as one, and gave one of the longest standing ovations this reviewer has witnessed.

The story of Swan Lake has been cleverly reworked, with a spoof on our own Royal Family.  Paparazzi are on the lookout to take photos of the royals in flagrante and sell them to the scandal-sheets.  There is indeed some scandalous behaviour by the Prince at a seedy night club.  And a clockwork corgi is even taken for a walk across the stage. Sex rears its ugly head again at the Royal Ball, with some steamy pairings of the heterosexual variety.  But the switch to male swans releases a strong homoerotic undercurrent, and the Prince’s absorption into their menacing world leads to catastrophe.

Your reviewer suffers from the “tingle factor”.  Certain pieces of music affect him so deeply that he bursts into tears whenever he hears them.  Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score for Swan Lake contains two such items, and right on cue your reviewer had to reach for his Kleenex.  This really is wonderful music. And the dancing? Well, that was wonderful too. The story may have changed almost beyond recognition.  It is now a story for our time. But the music is timeless, and the choreography of this production is worthy of it.