Triple bill is a terrific trip down memory lane

Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures, Ipswich Regent, until June 30

Matthew Bourne is a difficult man to pigeon-hole. Is he a choreographer or a director, and are his works ballets, contemporary dance or, as some have called them, with a degree of sniffiness, “dancicals”?

Two things are clear, though, he is a consummate man of the theatre and the stage works he has created have delighted audiences all over the world for nearly 25 years.

Most famously, he re-worked the Tchaikovsky classic Swan Lake into a now iconic piece of theatre with its flock of male swans, and it is fascinating to see, in the three early works staged at the Regent under the title Early Adventures, the development of his distinctive style – energetic, witty, ingenious, and always responsive to the music.

The three pieces make for a tremendous evening – his company of nine superb dancers revelling in the extraordinary variety of dance Bourne has given them. The curtain raiser, Spitfire, is a high camp send up of the males in mail order catalogues. Four models pose and preen in their underwear to an accompaniment of 19th Century ballet music, in a piece inspired by the classic Pas de Quatre that was created 150 years or so ago for the four leading ballerinas of the day.


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The central piece is in two parts, Town and Country, mostly set to British light classical pieces. Town is stylish and urbane - and features a very clever sequence in which two “bright young things” are bathed and dressed by a gentleman’s gentleman and a maid, and a very amusing version of Brief Encounter complete with Rachmaninov’s piano concerto and lots of steam.

In the Country section, we get plenty of dancing yokels, and some hilarious puppetry, although a nasty accident does befall one of the woodland creatures. In one section, the movements for a group of wild fowl prefigure those famous male swans.

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The evening ends with a visit to Gay Paree, where, to the strains of La Mer, a merman entices a trio of matelots, and Edith Piaf underscores a beautifully-danced, heatfelt double duet between two pairs of lovers.

A terrific evening - funny, clever, inventive and occasionally steamy. Saturday night at the Regent is the last night of their tour – catch it if you can.

JAMES HAYWARD

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