Extra Review: Swan Lake

Photo by Helen Maybanks.
Photo by Helen Maybanks.

TCHAIKOVSKY’S Swan Lake in the hands of choreographer Matthew Bourne has been labelled a ‘modern classic’ - and, eighteen years after first taking to the stage, it’s easy to see why.

The New Adventures production is famous for the romantic pairing of the fragile prince (Liam Mower) with a powerful male swan (Chris Trenfield) — perhaps particularly poignant as the world’s spotlight falls on Russia and its recent controversies.

In fact, all the swans — traditionally female roles — are played by muscular male dancers; at once magnificent and menacing, displaying power and grace in equal measures (and more than a hint that this particular flock could break your arm and more).

IOt’s a common misconception that it’s an all-male production — in fact, this Swan Lake opens on tensions between the young prince and his cold, distant mother (danced elegantly by Saranne Curtin).

The ensemble cast provide an entertaining first act; from royal court conventions to the rules of a seedy dive bar (Swank Bar — points for wordplay there), where ballet blends seemlessly into down and dirty disco moves, followed later by a foray into flamenco.

Carrie Johnson as the lowbrow girlfriend trying (unsuccessfully) to charm her way into the Queen’s favour is a hit with the audience, and provides more than a few laughs.

But the most moving scenes are when our prince stumbles on the dance of the swans; an ongoing power struggle between the prince and his swan lover, and the tense feathered creatures surrounding them throughout, wingspans outstretched.

Chris Trenfield plays both the swan and the stranger well, shifting from tenderness in the first act to sexual swagger in the second.

Pairing the stranger with the Queen in a sensual dance is particularly effective, as the prince is tortured by images of his new-found love with the woman who continues to reject him.

As Swan Lake builds to a tragic conclusion, the stage takes on a haunted element, with dark and looming shadows cast on an increasingly stark backdrop — the ballet’s original text of white vs black swan imposed on all the characters.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is, like his other Tchaikovsky adaptations, a triumph guaranteed to haunt you all the way home — and an accessible enough storyline for even first-time ballet-goers.

Swan Lake runs at the King’s Theatre until Saturday. Performances are at 7.30pm (as well as 2.30pm Thurs and Sat matinees) and tickets are £16.90-£46.40 from 0844 871 7627.