Twenty five years ago a brand new dance company, called New Adventures, burst onto the arts scene with rainbow flags and pink banners held high. The innovative, and supremely creative, genius behind the company was a young man called Matthew Bourne. A quarter of a century later, the Theatre Royal Brighton is bursting at the seams with an excited and eager audience about to see three of his ground-breaking original pieces re-created.
The stage is set with a huge arch which, in the theatre lights, has a mother-of-pearl appearance and is adorned with very theatrical red drapes. We see the word Spitfire projected onto the backdrop and, for those familiar with Bourne’s work, this encourages huge smiles. For the unfamiliar members of the audience, Bourne’s “signature piece” is about to leave them in no uncertainty as to what the evening will offer.
Four male dancers, dressed in vests and various styles of underwear, take to the stage to perform Spitfire – an advertisement divertissement. James Leece wears “long johns”, Drew McOnie sports very brief briefs, with Christopher Marney and Dominic North modelling boxers and, the hybrid of the underpants world, the boxer brief. The dance is a celebration of male vanity and features huge amounts of posturing and strutting and, above all, is not just amusing, but laugh out loud funny. The guys show off their incredible physiques well and, due to the somewhat see-through nature of the material, also display four of the very best bottoms ever seen on the Brighton stage!
After a short pause to reset the stage, we see the first half of Town and Country, a piece created in 1991. The familiar strains of Land of Hope and Glory form the opening soundtrack to Town as we find ourselves in the world of Upstairs, Downstairs. Two bathtubs are wheeled on stage and, as one male and one female dancer are bathed by their servants, we witness the, at first hopelessly shy, meeting between two men. The growing relationship between the characters played by Marney and Tom Jackson Greaves is seen as somewhat cute these days, but would have created a much more astonished reaction when first performed.
Country starts after a short interval and does exactly what it says on the tin. Set against a colourful countryside background, the dancers appear in stereotypical farmer’s smocks and hats. Halfway through the piece the farmers change footwear to perform the clog dance during which various woodland animals appear (in hand puppet form) either side of the stage. Unfortunately the hedgehog proves to be a little too close to the action and, during some very enthusiastic stamping …well, you can guess what happens when I point out that the final part of this piece is entitled, The Hedgehog’s Funeral.
The final presentation is called The Infernal Galop which, some will know, is the title for the piece we all know as the Can-Can. The scene is France and the music, including Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and, as mentioned, Jaques Offenbach. Once again there is a degree of man-on-man action in this piece and one might be left with the impression that Mr Bourne is trying to tell us something!
The company of nine dancers all perform wonderfully and do perfect justice to their incredibly talented choreographer who will, I am sure, still be at the very top of his game in another 25 years time.