By Matthew Bourne
Car Man was my first new show in three years and a lot of people asked
me initially, “Why Carmen?”
To be honest, I resisted it for quite a while because there were so
many versions of Carmen, both ballet and opera, but I kept listening to the music and
the more I listened to it the more I felt that it was the right kind of
music for AMP.
I also felt that for us it suggested a different kind of movement
Listening to the Rodion Shchedrin version, which is the short
40-minute ballet version using strings and percussion, got me really
excited and I thought we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to use this
I contacted Terry Davies and asked him to compose further music based on
There is a substantial amount of great music that Shchedrin did not
use in his version and so Terry’s brief was to use this other music,
again with strings and percussion, to come up with a full-length score.
With our other shows of recent times, Nutcracker,
Highland Fling, Swan Lake and Cinderella,
we always worked to an existing score and we made the story fit the score,
but this time we were able to work in reverse so that we had a scene and
were able to think, “what kind of music do we need for this?” It was
such a freeing experience.
the music became this very exciting hybrid, and I felt that I didn’t
want everyone, including myself, to be thinking, “Oh God, not another Carmen,”
when it came to the scenario, so I decided we would tell our own story.
That said, there are parallels with the original opera, there are elements
of lust, passion, revenge and murder and all those things that are
associated with Carmen.
None of our characters can be linked directly to the role of
Carmen, but Luca, a stranger who arrives at the beginning of the show, is
really our title character because he is a kind of fate figure who affects
everyone’s lives and becomes the catalyst for change.
importantly though, I think the essence of Carmen
is there, but we set our production in a different time and a different
Car Man is set in an Italian-American community in a small mid-western
American town in the early sixties.
Although it’s set in America, there is quite a European feel to
the production. And although there are some obvious American elements, we
added a more gritty, European feel and avoided Hollywood glamour.
We watched a fair mix of European and Hollywood films of the
period, but I wanted to get away from the glossy look.
We also came up with a name for this fictional town, which is
Harmony - it’s also by chance the name of a real town in the States.
This actually becomes increasingly ironic because so many things go
wrong in this place.
I was looking for something like Pleasantville
that was nice but ironic and suggested a darker side.
characters that populate this town are very gutsy and real I suppose,
which is different for us, and a real departure from the regal Swan
Lake and the more period feel of Cinderella,
so the movement that came from this was much more earthy and gritty.
Also, the whole structure of The
Car Man, in terms of design, is much freer.
There are no wings, the set is in the middle of the stage and you
can see people coming and going.
I think this created a feeling of spontaneity and freedom, which is
in keeping with the whole dynamic of the show.
With this production, I wanted to create a sense that the
performers were protagonists and observers, almost part of the audience
who are witnessing this; they are not there but they are witnesses to the
this way, there is a constant sense of the presence of fate as the story
In rehearsals I found that it was important to work sequentially as far as possible because it kept everyone focussed on the narrative through-line, which is so important for the thriller element. Because we are working with such complex characters who never actually speak, it is crucial for me that the performers understand their motivation in order to communicate this fully through the choreography. In this way, we worked with a lot of exercises that you might normally find in an acting, rather than a dance, studio. Character interviews, involving the company questioning an individual member of the cast in character, so that all the answers they give are as the character in the first person, helped to flesh out what happens on stage in their minds and helped them find a way into the character. In this way, none of the characters are black and white, just villains or just good, they all have a background and a past and have sympathetic angles, which we have explored. We also looked at a number of films, and I asked members of the cast to look at particular film stars and to extract certain mannerisms that they felt might be appropriate to their character. Really, all of this is leading to the fact that the movement has to be character led; it’s not just movement for movement’s sake, which in turn comes back to my basic desire to tell a good story, and I hope that’s what The Car Man is.
- An Auto-Erotic Thriller -
- Talk about the show -
All photos copyright 2001 Lara Hartley unless noted otherwise
All contributions as noted in each feature.