Magazine article The Spectator

Outrageous Steps

Magazine article The Spectator

Outrageous Steps

Article excerpt

London theatre is a parochial affair, which periodically gets a much-needed shove. This may come via a new art form - the Lloyd Webber musical, or Eighties stand-up comedy - which brings in a brand-new audience. Or it may come via a show so liberatingly subversive that nothing can be the same again. Readers with long memories may recall the seismic effect which Beyond the Fringe had on the stuffy establishment of 1960. Those who were around in 1972 will remember the joyful irruption of the Rocky Horror Show, which led the way for scores of subsequent musicals, and broke certain taboos for ever.

This year a show has blasted its way through the suffocating layer of dingy relevance and modish violence. Nobody - not even its creators - had originally any idea that the version of Swan Lake now packing the Piccadilly Theatre would prove a hit, or that producers world-wide would scramble to buy it. The choreographer Matthew Bourne and his troupe Adventures in Motion Pictures had for many years earned little fame beyond the ranks of their regular supporters. They had had modest success with a contemporary reworking of La Sylphide - in which the drug-crazed hero lopped the heroine's wings with a pair of garden shears - and their comic version of the Nutcracker had gone down well. But the swooning teenagers, theatre buffs, music lovers and balletomanes now flocking to Swan Lake suggest something different, as does Stuttgart Ballet's desire to franchise the work, or the talk in Tokyo of its being cloned like Cats.

The moral is this: when audiences are offered comedy plus tragedy plus dazzling designs plus gorgeous music - plus sexual glamour of a very high order - they will come back time and again. Doubters need only cock an ear in the foyer: recidivism is the name of the game. Post-modernism an empty concept at the best of times - is definitively dead.

Bourne has taken outrageous liberties, and not only because his swans are male.

He has set the tale in an indeterminate place, and transformed it into an Oedipal fable whose central character is a frustrated and lonely Prince. We could be in imperial St Petersburg, but more often we're in Windsor, where the characters include a delicious coquette and a Machiavellian press secretary whom Princess Diana would call the Enemy. Kept at arm's length by his mother, the sad young Prince attempts to pair off with the coquette, but the swans reflect his real desire: something healingly free and elemental. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.