The modern take on George Bizet's famous opera opened at the Old Vic on 13 September, following previews from 4 September, and had originally only been booking to 9 December 2000. In October, it extended its run to January.
The Car Man premiered in Plymouth last May and toured regionally before its West End transfer. Although based loosely on Carmen, The Car Man - subtitled "an auto-erotic thriller" - does not strictly follow the scenario of the opera and, although it features Bizet's timeless score (with new, percussive orchestrations), it tells its own story, inspired by classical Hollywood film noir movies. Rather than a cigarette factory, the action is set in a vehicle body shop. It shows how the dreams and passions of a small community are shattered by the arrival of a handsome new stranger in town. Fuelled by heat and desire, the inhabitants are drawn into a downward spiral of greed, opportunism, sex and murder.
The cast, alternating at various performances, includes Alan Vincent, Ewan Wardrop, Will Kemp and Ben Hartley dancing Luca; Kemp, Wardrop and Arthur Pita dancing Angelo; Saranne Curtin, Michela Meazza and Vicky Evans dancing Lana; Scott Ambler and Neil Penlington dancing Dina Alfano; and Etta Murfitt, Emily Piercy and Heather Habens dancing Rita.
The Car Man is AMP's first new show in three years. It follows the company's renowned 1995 production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, featuring an ensemble of male swans, which collected eight UK awards, including an Olivier for Best New Dance Production, and 20 US awards, including three Tonys. Swan Lake returned to the West End last year for a sell-out, five-week run at the Dominion Theatre. AMP's last production, Cinderella, based on Prokofieff's original score, premiered at the West End's Piccadilly Theatre in 1997. It won the 1998 Olivier for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for Lez Brotherston's set and costume design.
The Car Man is also designed by Brotherston, in his fourth collaboration with AMP. Lighting design is by Chris Davey, music by Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin, adapted from the Bizet score, and musical direction by Brett Morris.
Despite the shorter-than-hoped-for run of The Car Man, AMP's current presence at the Old Vic remains just a preview of things to come. In early 2002, the company will take up residency at the theatre with a full-time ensemble of 30 dancers/actors and a team of creative staff, technicians and management. Founded ten years ago, AMP, under the direction of artistic director and choreographer Matthew Bourne and producer Katharine Dore, has quickly achieved international acclaim with its irreverent interpretations of dance icons, although, to date, it has done so strictly as a touring company with no long-term base in London or elsewhere.
During the first four years of the Old Vic residency, six new productions, directed and choreographed by Bourne, will be produced and played in repertory at the Old Vic. Extensive national and international touring, a major education programme and an apprentice scheme will also follow.