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Review: Swan Lake at Newcastle's Theatre Royal

Choreographer Matthew Bourne imbues his productions with wit, style and sex appeal and Swan Lake - which made his name – certainly ticks those boxes

*****
A scene from Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Choreographer Matthew Bourne imbues his productions with wit, style and sex appeal and Swan Lake - which made his name – certainly ticks those boxes.

I have been lucky enough to see many of Bourne’s works and had I been asked to choose just one show to see this year, this would have been it.

I was not disappointed. Simple but striking sets, gorgeous costumes, charming characters and a hugely talented cast combine to create an absolute feast set to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score.

First performed in 1995, the production reworks the story of a prince falling in love with an enchanted princess, and famously features an all-male bevy of swans. Their scenes are both mesmerising and memorable.

The power and grace of a swan is summoned in a surprising array of movements so that the character of the bird survives during long and varied sections of the piece.

But there is more. Anyone who has ever come close to a swan will have experienced fear when confronted by its size and strength, and here lies the power of Bourne’s vision and the twist to the traditional story.

Chris Trenfield, in the dual lead role as The Swan and Stranger, has great presence and seems to physically dwarf the other “birds”, each of whom displays an impressive bare torso.

As in the classical ballet, The Prince, danced beautifully by Liam Mower, is on stage much of the time. He also rises to the acting demands of the role.

In entertaining and moving scenes we see him, for example, reluctantly carry out his royal duties, get drunk in a bar, fight, despair and fall in love.

Despite all the men, do not mistake this for an all-male production. Around a third of the cast are women and they occupy two of the main roles.

The Girlfriend is danced by hugely likeable Anjali Mehra. Her easy way with comedy makes it hard to know where to look when at one point she is seated up in one of the theatre’s boxes watching a toe-curlingly dreadful ballet down on the stage.

In the box with her is The Queen, Madelaine Brennan, whose icy way with her son and clear self-regard earned her boos of appreciation among the enthusiastic applause at the end of the show.

In Act Three each member of the company gets a chance to shine at a ball rich with sub-plots. This is when The Stranger appears and seduces each of the women in turn.

It is heartbreaking to see him spurn the Prince and very worrying when, after murder and mayhem, the curtain then falls! But thankfully, the action resumes.

Bourne’s New Adventures company, regular visitors to the city, have a two-week run with Swan Lake, and in a move which should signal Newcastle welcoming many more of his productions, Bourne last week became a patron of the Friends of the Theatre Royal.

Swan Lake is at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal until April 19. See www.theatreroyal.co.uk or call the box office on 08448 112121.

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