Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures at Sadler’s Wells 04/04/17

matthew_2In 2017 the New Adventures company is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Younger dance fans will know Bourne for his iconic Swan Lake, Nutcracker!, gothic themed Sleeping Beauty and most recently The Red Shoes but here Bourne revisits some popular works from the early years. The triple bill features a comparatively small cast and harks back to some more simplistic concepts that still remain hugely entertaining.

The evening starts with a brief visit down memory lane in Watch with Mother, a piece very much aimed at audiences for whom the title will speak for itself. It’s a playful romp exploring childhood games as well as casting an eye to bullying and the loneliness of being excluded from friends at school. The quirky, comical stereotyping is all there along with the heartwarming ending where one of the flighty girls offers her hand to a previously lonely classmate.

The piece overall feels like it deliberately lacks a little refinement. The humour is obvious and the gear changes are quite vast as we go from schoolyard games to the loneliness and isolation of bullying indicated from Percy Grainger’s mournful piano compositions. It’s still clear to see where the seeds were sown for Bourne’s later global hits though, there is slow, weaving, undulating choreography used in some solo moments, strongly reminiscent of those in Sleeping Beauty and precise synchronised movement from the wider ensemble.

Town and Country is even more recognisable as an early Bourne success in which a touch of camp is never far away. In Country, we see two farm hands perform their own take on the ribbon dance from La Fille Mal Gardee and natural hilarity ensues. Bourne has to work a little harder for the humour in Town and dutifully delivers. A beautifully choreographed set piece ensues where a group of servants bathe and dress their self-absorbed middle-class employers as they swish about the bathroom with exaggerated sweeping movements. Charismatic Mari Kamata really steals the show here with her impeccable timing and easy extensions.

The references to Brief Encounter in Town are skillfully done too. A pair of couples pull off the famous station cafe scene with perfect synchronicity. Lez Brotherston’s designs are evident and come into their own too with a towering Big Ben in the foreground.

Town is well conceived and staged however with Country Bourne has chosen easy fodder for comedy and cliche. There’s plenty to poke fun at; unpredictable animals, clog dancing and of course a healthy sexual appetite are all ticked off the list. Animals feature through the use of puppetry and the moment when the hedgehog meets his death during the over enthusiastic clog dance is genuinely amusing and Bourne wisely revisits later in the piece displaying his talent for entertaining the audience and engaging storytelling.

JS120216583_Johan-Persson_EARLY-ADVENTURES-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqpVlberWd9EgFPZtcLiMQf1X_50byq9Ah3wJAV0YS_MsFrench satire The Infernal Gallop completes the bill and by this point, the choreography in this third and final piece begins to feel repetitive compared to the Bourne we’re used to. Featuring the full cast of nine dancers the concept seeks to expose the English’ assumptions on French culture; stripy shirts, high-jinx at some urinals and the cancan all feature. The piece does offer space for some flat out dance allowing the female cast (Kamata along with Sophia Hurdley and Jamie Emma McDonald) to really inject some power and ownership of the stage.

In essence, these works don’t grab you in the way Bourne’s modern classics do, there’s a patchy lack of variety in the choreography and cliches can be pushed too far. However, they work nicely as enjoyable tit-bits or a satisfying stocking filler to the unforgettable blockbusters that followed later.

3 Star Review

First published on LondonTheatre1.com

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