Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake received a standing ovation when it opened at the Sheffield Lyceum on Tuesday- quite rightly.
The show, which has soared to become a stand-alone masterpiece in its own right since its premiere in 1995, is convention-shattering in that it replaces a female Corps de ballet with a vicious all-male ensemble and a homoerotic framing of the classic fairytale.
I’ve been lucky enough to see a few Matthew Bourne productions and for me what separates his work from the rest is his sense of vivacity and play, which immediately springs into life from the off here.
French maids in identical uniforms and wigs sashay through a vast castle in the opening scene. The Royal Corgi is walked, much champagne uncorked. The Prince’s naughty, puffball-skirted girlfriend (the brilliant Katrina Lyndon) accompanies the Queen (Nicole Kabera) to a ballet-within-a-ballet where her phone begins to trill loudly. ‘Hello?! I am at the theatre!’ she mouths sweetly. It’s all, quite simply, a delight.
Our sweet Prince (Dominic North) desperately attempts to navigate this gilded yet stifling palace life. We escape to the vibrant, flapper girl peppered Swank Bar and then finally to that familar moonlit lake, where the boy swans descend.
These creatures are other-worldly and inaccessible. They exhale and hiss with each fell swoop. Everything from the dancers’ classic backwards bow-and-arrow arm positioning to their haunted expressions is palpably swan-like. The dance of the four cygnets, featuring some unashamedly drag-like thigh slapping, is an especial highlight that provides a comical moment of respite from the dizzying intensity of the scene.
It has to be said that Will Bozier is flawless in the principal role, flitting from the radiant White Swan, which symbolises the Prince’s longing for freedom, to scheming philanderer (or The Stranger, known in the original ballet as the Black Swan) with a finesse that earned him rapturous applause at Final Curtain. I was loathe to take my eyes off him for a second.
Even the burliest ballet-sceptic will surface from the theatre electrified (and, I’d wager, even a convert).
See it while you can.