Matthew Bourne's The Car Man

Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" is a ballet by British choreographer Matthew Bourne. It previewed for the first time on 16 May 2000 at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, England, and was subsequently staged at the Old Vic in London in September of that year.

The music for the ballet is based on Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin's Bolshoi Ballet version of Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen" (1875), with additional music by composer Terry Davies. However, the story differs completely from the plot of the opera. Instead, it is loosely based on James M. Cain's novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1934), and the 1946 and 1981 films of the same name. The ballet is notable for its frank depictions of violence and sex, including homoeroticism.

"The Car Man" has generally been critically acclaimed, although some reviewers have commented that its characters are clichéd and that the ballet lacks the emotional truth of Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake".


The action takes place in the 1960s over a period of nine months in a small Italian American community in the fictional mid-western town of Harmony, USA.citation|author=New Adventures|chapter=Matthew Bourne Talks About the Creation of The Car Man|year=2007|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (programme for the performance at Sadler's Wells, London, from 10 July to 5 August 2007|location=London|publisher=Sadler's Wells Theatre.]


Act One

The ballet begins with the sound of a car engine revving. In the Prologue, Luca, a drifter, arrives in the town of Harmony somewhere in the USA with a rucksack on his back. A billboard reads: "Welcome to... Harmony. Population 375. Drive safely!"

In Scene One, the sound of tools clashing with metal can be heard as Bruno, Chad, Dirk, Frankie, "Hot" Rod, Marco, Rocco and Vito – mechanics employed by Dino Alfano, owner of Dino's Garage – repair cars in the early evening. The mechanics tease and bully Angelo, one of Dino's hired help. Dino himself swaggers around, ensuring his men are working hard. A siren goes off, marking the end of the work day. The mechanics head upstairs to shower and change.

After work, the mechanics gather at Dino's Diner, also owned by Dino Alfano, where they meet their girlfriends, factory girls Gina, Delores, Mercedes and Monica, to socialize with them and to drink. Dino's beautiful wife Lana and her sister Rita work as waitresses at the diner. There is a "Man wanted" sign on a lamppost; Lana leans suggestively on the lamppost under the sign. [The "Man wanted" sign outside the garage was taken from the 1946 film version of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and Lana's name was borrowed from actress Lana Turner who starred in it: cite news|last=Conrad|first=Peter|title=Blood, Sweat and Tyres (review)|url=,,363524,00.html|publisher=The Observer|date=2000-09-03] Rita has a soft spot for Angelo and tries to get close to him, but he appears shy and avoids her.

Luca arrives at the diner. Although he is a stranger to the people gathered there, his obvious charisma attracts their attention. To the familiar tune of the "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen", Luca antagonizes the men by flirting with their girlfriends and by pushing or slapping them and, in one case, kissing one of the men on the lips. He is particularly attracted to Lana. Dino appears. Luca gestures to the "Man wanted" sign, and Dino invites Luca to his office to discuss the matter. During this time, Dino shows his crassness and lack of respect for Lana by pinching her bottom and groping her in public. He seems to regard her more as a chattel than as his wife.

While Dino and Luca converse in Dino's office, Rita and Angelo finally meet and express affection for each other. However, the mechanics begin to bully Angelo again. Luca comes to his aid, pushing one of the men to the ground. Seeing this, Dino takes down the "Man wanted" sign and tears it up, indicating that he has decided to hire Luca as a part-time mechanic.

Scene Two takes place two weeks later. It is midday, and the sun is scorching. Too hot to work, the mechanics, wearing sleeveless tank tops or stripped to their waists, laze around the garage and flirt with their girlfriends. Luca has taken Angelo under his wing and is teaching him how to fight. Unfortunately, Angelo shows little skill and continues to be the subject of the other mechanics' ridicule. Dino arrives, looking rather silly in a straw hat, Hawaiian shirt, bermudas, and socks and sandals. Taking his briefcase, he leaves for a trip. Luca begins flirting with Lana, who is kneading dough for bread. The mechanics and their partners also begin behaving intimately with increasing intensity. Lana leads Luca into her apartment with Dino above Dino's office. They make love, and Luca subsequently emerges dressed only in his underwear and an unbuttoned shirt, smoking a cigarette. [The scene where Luca and Lana have sex on a table was taken from the 1981 remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange: cite news|last=Conrad|first=Peter|title=Blood, Sweat and Tyres (review)|url=,,363524,00.html|publisher=The Observer|date=2000-09-03] He then re-enters the apartment to be with Lana again. Other couples lounge around the garage floor, apparently in post-coital bliss. Dino returns from his trip, and chases his workers and their friends away. He sees Lana through the apartment window and thinks she is waving at him, not realizing she is again making love to Luca with her hand pressed to the window. Dino ascends the metal staircase leading to the apartment, but trips and makes a clattering noise. Lana and Luca realize that Dino has returned. Just as Dino enters the apartment, Luca leaves by throwing his clothes out of another window and climbing down a fire escape. He dresses, but discovers that one of his boots is missing. Fortunately, Lana tosses the boot out of the window. Luca puts it on and walks away quickly. Angelo observes and follows him. Next, we see a car in the garage shaking as two people engage in sexual intercourse within. Luca emerges, buttoning his trousers, followed – unexpectedly – by Angelo. The expression on Angelo's face indicates he has fallen in love with Luca.

Scene Three takes place on a Saturday. A hoedown has been organized at Dino's Diner. People are dressed in their party best, dancing and taking photographs. But in the midst of the jollity there is an ominous mood. Both Lana and Angelo try to get close to Luca, not realizing that the two of them have each slept with him. Rita continues to pine after Angelo, but he ignores her. Luca and Lana then sneak off from the party for a dalliance. They are caught by Dino, who gets into a fight with Luca. Lana tries to intervene but is punched in the stomach by Dino. Luca lunges at Dino but Dino pushes him to the ground. Then Lana picks up a heavy spanner and hits Dino on the head with it. He is stunned by the blow. Luca then takes the spanner from Lana and clubs Dino with it again. Dino falls to the ground, apparently dead. Luca and Lana hear someone coming, so they drag Dino's body into his office. Unknown to them, the fight has been witnessed by Rita, who hurries off to call the police. Then Angelo appears, seeking Luca. To Luca and Lana's horror, Dino is not dead – he crawls out of the office and grabs Angelo, seeking help. He then collapses on Angelo, smearing him with his blood. The commotion by Angelo and Dino causes people to come over. Luca flees before the local cop, Chuck, arrives on the scene. Lana claims that Angelo murdered Dino, and pretends to cry over his dead body. Angelo, protesting his innocence, is arrested and taken away.

Act Two

Act Two takes place six months later. Scene One takes place in a club called "Le Beat-Route" owned by Shirley. She is elegantly dressed in black, as are several beatniks in leather jackets, berets and dark glasses. Luca and Lana enter the club with friends. They have come into money, for they are well dressed. Shirley calls for a cabaret act to be performed for her patrons by Virginia, Erick and Jose. [According to Bourne, the character Jose was named for the choreographer José Limón; Erick is Martha Graham's husband, dancer and choreographer Erick Hawkins; and "we thought Virginia was the kind of name that suited one of Balanchine's muses": cite news|last=Conrad|first=Peter|title=Blood, Sweat and Tyres (review)|url=,,363524,00.html|publisher=The Observer|date=2000-09-03] The cabaret performers are all dressed in black, and Virginia wields a dagger. The act brings back uncomfortable memories of Dino's murder for Lana and Luca. After the performance, Luca starts spending money lavishly on buying drinks and gambling with some of the beatniks, though he keeps losing. Becoming increasingly drunk on champagne, he begins to treat Lana badly, much like how Dino used to treat her. As Luca leaves the club, his conscience haunts him – he pictures Angelo behind bars in prison.

Scene Two happens in the county jailhouse. Angelo is now Prisoner 22177. He suffers in captivity, his hands manacled together with leather cuffs linked by a thong. Rita comes to see him, and they rekindle their affection for each other. Rita tells Angelo what she saw: that it was Lana and Luca who murdered Dino, and that he had been framed. Angelo is furious and flings a chair across the visiting room. As Rita leaves, other prisoners make catcalls at her. The warden, Dexter, leads Angelo away from the visiting room. However, instead of returning Angelo to his cell, he strips off Angelo's shirt. It is obvious that he intends to rape Angelo. The look on Angelo's face suggests that this is not the first time this has happened. However, on this occasion, Angelo overcomes Dexter and slams his head into a wall, knocking him out cold. Angelo drags him into an empty cell, and takes his handgun. Snatching the warden's uniform shirt and cap from a hook on the wall, he escapes from the jail.

In Scene Three it is closing time at Le Beat-Route. Lana and Luca are at the club again. Luca is clutching a whiskey bottle, drunk. Lana tries to persuade him to stop drinking and to leave the club, but he refuses. Luca asks the bartender for more alcohol but he declines. Suddenly, Luca is haunted by a vision of Dino, bleeding from the head.

The finale, Scene Four brings the audience back to Dino's garage. The shop's shutters are down and "For sale" signs have been posted on it. It is late evening on a Saturday, and Rita is alone at the diner. She hears a clatter in the kitchen and goes to investigate. She is shocked to see that it is Angelo. He is no longer the mild, sweet man she knew. He paws her, and brandishes his handgun. She looks upon him both with affection and fear. Angelo reveals what he has planned to do: using his gun, he forces Rita up to Dino and Lana's apartment where he holds her as a hostage in wait for Lana and Luca's return.

A new sign at the diner indicates that bare-knuckle fighting will be taking place. The mechanics and their girlfriends, including Luca and Lana, arrive. First, they decide to go drag racing. After the cars crash, they head for the diner. Lana and Luca pull down the shutter of the diner, to see the word "MURDERER" painted in bold, red letters – they hurriedly push the shutter up. The men begin the fighting competition. The fighting areas are marked out using tyres, and a blackboard inscribed "Fight club – score" is hung from a wall. Eight men take part in separate two-men fights, and the winners fight each other. Luca is defeated by one of the mechanics. Lana goes upstairs to her apartment, and is also taken hostage by Angelo. In the midst of the fighting competition, a shot suddenly rings out. Angelo emerges from the apartment with his gun pointed at Lana and Rita. Angelo attacks Luca; the gun is wrested from his grip and falls to the ground. Luca subdues Angelo and tries to reach for the gun. Before he can do so, he is shot dead by Rita from the steps leading to the apartment with another gun. Angelo and Rita embrace. The mechanics get shovels to bury Luca and cover up the crime. Once again, we see a large billboard; this time it reads "You are now leaving Harmony. See you again soon!"

Music and story

As the title of the ballet suggests, the music for "The Car Man" was based on that composed for the opera "Carmen" (1875) by French composer Georges Bizet (1838–1875). However, the original score was not used. Instead, composer Terry Davies used as a starting-point the 40-minute Bolshoi Ballet version "Carmen Ballet" (1967) employing only strings (cello and double bass) and percussion by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin (1932– ), and composed additional music based on the original score. This was the first time that Matthew Bourne had collaborated with a composer to create a complete score.

The story of "The Car Man" differs completely from the plot of Bizet's "Carmen". Although Bourne has commented that at least two characters, one male (probably Luca) and one female (Lana), were "like" the character of Carmen, and that Luca himself is "The Car Man", no characters were intended to actually be Carmen. According to Bourne, "I wasn't particularly interested in the story of "Carmen", the opera, I didn't even know it that well, and I still don't know it that well, to be honest. I know there are parallels, but it was more the feeling of the music and the feeling of what we all know Carmen to be."cite web|last=Grew|first=Tony|title=Interview : In the Garage with the Master Mechanic of Dance : Away from the Chattering London Dance Elite, Matthew Bourne is Feted as One of the Most Talented Choreographers Alive Today|url=|publisher=Pink News|date=2007-07-24|accessdate=2007-07-29] The story is loosely based on the 1934 novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice" by American novelist James M. Cain (1892–1977) and the 1946 and 1981 films of the same name respectively starring John Garfield and Lana Turner, and Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.citation|author=New Adventures|chapter=Facts and Figures|year=2007|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (programme for the performance at Sadler's Wells, London, from 10 July to 5 August 2007|location=London|publisher=Sadler's Wells Theatre.]

In the films, Frank, a drifter, stops at a rural California diner for a meal and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a beautiful young woman, Cora, and her much older husband, Nick, a Greek immigrant whom she does not love. Frank and Cora have an affair, and scheme to murder Nick in order to start a new life together without Cora losing the diner. Their first attempt at the murder is a failure, but they eventually succeed. The local prosecutor suspects what has occurred, but does not have enough evidence to prove it. As a tactic to get Cora and Frank to turn on one another, he prosecutes only Cora for the crime. Although they do turn against each other, a clever ploy from Cora's lawyer prevents her full confession from coming into the hands of the prosecutor. Cora is ultimately acquitted. Frank and Cora eventually patch together their tumultuous relationship, and plan for a future together. However, as they seem prepared to finally live "happily ever after", Cora dies in a car accident. The ending of the films differs from that of Cain's original book. There, Frank ends up wrongly convicted for Cora's murder.

The characters of Luca, Lana and Dino in "The Car Man" are clearly modelled after Frank, Cora and Nick in the films, and Nick's murder by Frank and Cora is paralleled by the killing of Dino by Luca and Lana in the ballet. Frank's wrongful conviction in Cain's novel is also referenced by the miscarriage of justice perpetrated against Angelo. However, the resemblance ends there. Bourne introduces into the story the themes of unrequited love, betrayal and revenge present in some of his other ballets such as "Swan Lake". A homoerotic element is also present: the protagonist Luca is bisexual – he has an affair with Angelo, and also kisses one of the mechanics working at Dino's Garage on the lips to annoy him; the fact that Angelo has been raped in prison by the warden, Dexter, is alluded to; and two of the mechanics, Marco and Vito, make out with each other.


"The Car Man" was originally produced by Matthew Bourne's company Adventures in Motion Pictures. Subtitled "An Auto-Erotic Thriller",cite news|last=Gibbons|first=Fiachra|title=Change of Tune : Carmen Gets an Adult Twist|url=,,237061,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|date=2000-01-31] the ballet first previewed on 16 May 2000 at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, England,citation|author=New Adventures|chapter=20 Years of Adventure|year=2007|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (programme for the performance at Sadler's Wells, London, from 10 July to 5 August 2007|location=London|publisher=Sadler's Wells Theatre.] and then was staged at the Old Vic in London in September of that year. [cite news|last=Mackrell|first=Judith|title=Driven with Urgency : The Car Man, The Old Vic, London|url=,,702645,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|date=2000-09-15] The ballet was filmed for TV in the UK by Channel 4 and broadcast at Christmas in 2001; it was subsequently released on DVD. "The Car Man" played in Los Angeles in summer 2001 and was supposed to transfer to New York, but plans to do so were set aside after the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.Fact|date=September 2007

In 2007, "The Car Man" was revived by Bourne's present company New Adventures under the subtitle "Bizet's Carmen Reimagined" [cite web|title=Explosion of Lethal Desire (review)|url=|publisher=Plymouth Herald (republished on the Wales Millennium Centre website)|date=2007-06-20|accessdate=2007-07-29] and toured the UK between 18 June and 17 November 2007.

"The Car Man" is one of Bourne's most popular works [cite news|last=Jennings|first=Luke|title=Driving Force of a People-Mover : Matthew Bourne's Roadside Version of Carmen Remains Triumphantly Accessible (review)|url=,,2126391,00.html|publisher=The Observer|date=2007-07-15] and has generally been acclaimed. Critics have commented that it is "full of dramatic and choreographic juice", [cite news|last=Mackrell|first=Judith|title=Easy Rider : Bizet's Sultry Cigarette Girl is Now a Garage Hand|url=,4273,4020793,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|date=2000-05-22] "sizzling and fizzing with lust", [cite news|last=Monahan|first=Mark|title=Sizzling and Fizzing with Lust (review)|url=|publisher=The Daily Telegraph|date=2007-07-13] and "a fast-moving thriller that contains all the elements of a film noir". [cite web|author=CB|title=The First Night Feature : The Car Man|url=|publisher=London Theatre Guide|date=2007-07-12|accessdate=2007-07-29] However, one reviewer has complained that the characters are too clichéd – "the bored housewife, her burping, farting, bullying husband, and her mind-bogglingly feeble sister who still loves her boyfriend even though he prefers boys to girls. Come off it, you want to yell, stop sympathising with him and start sympathising with yourself." – and that "the emotional histrionics [leave] you numb". [cite news|last=Frater|first=Sarah|title=Lust and Loathing in Small-Town USA|url='sTheCarMan/|publisher=Evening Standard|date=2007-07-12] It has also been commented that the ballet is lacking in its "portrayal of women in heat", and that "it will never match the emotional truth of its classic predecessor, "Swan Lake". [cite news|last=Mackrell|first=Judith|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man, Sadler's Wells, London (review)|url=,,2125494,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=41|publisher=The Guardian|date=2007-07-13]


*2000 – Evening Standard Award for "Musical Event of 2000".
*Nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.

ee also

*Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake"



*cite news|last=Conrad|first=Peter|title=Blood, Sweat and Tyres (review)|url=,,363524,00.html|publisher=The Observer|date=2000-09-03
*cite book|author=New Adventures|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (programme for the performance at Sadler's Wells, London, from 10 July to 5 August 2007)|location=London|publisher=Sadler's Wells Theatre|year=2007
*cite web|last=Grew|first=Tony|title=Interview : In the Garage with the Master Mechanic of Dance : Away from the Chattering London Dance Elite, Matthew Bourne is Feted as One of the Most Talented Choreographers Alive Today|url=|publisher=Pink News|date=2007-07-24|accessdate=2007-07-29

Further reading

*cite news|last=Morley|first=Sheridan|title=London Theater : An Intimate Close-Up From Hare (folo)|url=|publisher=International Herald Tribune|date=2000-09-20
*cite news|last=Morley|first=Sheridan|title=Cerebral Surgery (review)|url=|publisher=The Spectator (republished on LookSmart)|date=2000-09-23
*cite web|last=Perlmutter|first=Sharon|title=The Car Man (review)|url=||month=October | year=2001|accessdate=2007-07-29
*cite web|last=Shea|first=Christian Leopold|title=The Car Man : An Auto-Erotic Thriller : On-Line Review|url=|publisher=The Jaundiced Eye|month=October | year=2001|accessdate=2007-07-29
*cite news|last=Mackrell|first=Judith|title=All Things to All Men : She has been a Feminist Campaigner, a Sultry Sex Icon, a Street Kid – Even a Male Car Mechanic|url=,,676005,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|date=2002-03-30
*cite web|last=Chalabi|first=Selma|title=The Car Man : Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 26–30 June 2007|url=| (BBC South East Wales)|date=2007-06-27
*cite web|last=Jones|first=Jason|title=Car Man (review)|url=|publisher=Rainbow Network|date=2007-06-28|accessdate=2007-07-29
*cite web|last=Marie-Jeanne|first=Francoise|title=Francoise Marie-Jeanne Went to See The Car Man|url=|publisher=LeftLion|date=3 July7 July 2007|accessdate=2007-07-29
*cite web|last=Blackburn|first=Anna|title=Review : The Car Man|url=| (BBC Nottingham)|date=2007-07-05|accessdate=2007-07-30
*cite web|last=Brown|first=Ismene|title=Matthew Bourne's Trailer-Trash Tragedy|url=|publisher=The First Post : The Online Daily Magazine|date=2007-07-06
*cite web|last=Darvell|first=Michael|title=Matthew Bourne's The Car Man (review)|url=||date=2007-07-15|accessdate=2007-07-29
*cite news|last=Gilbert|first=Jenny|title=The Car Man, Sadler's Wells, London : An Edge-of-the-Seat Story of Murder and Axle-Grease|url=|publisher=The Independent|date=2007-07-15

External links

* [ Official website of Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man"]
* [ Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" on the official website of Friends of New Adventures]
* [ Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" at the website of Sadler's Wells Theatre, London (10 July – 5 August 2007)]
* [ Photographs of Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" from the official website of actor and danseur Will Kemp]
* [ Official website of composer Terry Davies]

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