Swan Lake glides gracefully up the Manchester Ship Canal to take up residency at The Lowry until 1st December and Matthew Bourne's innovative, daring and visually stunning vision of this classic ballet makes for a note perfect treat from start to finish.

When it was first staged in 1995 at Sadler's Wells in London, this re-imagination of the Tchaikovsky classic caused huge controversy and prompted walk outs from the more conservative elements of the early audiences. The decision to cast the swans as male dancers was seen as an unimaginable leap and ruffled many feathers in the ballet community (all puns in this review are intended!). Bourne has since gone on to become the most popular and successful choreographer in the UK, his work encompassing not only ballet but musical theatre, developing innovative work and successive generations of talent across both genres. 

As we watch the story unfold, The Prince (Dominic North) is struggling to find love abetted by his haughty mother (Katrina Lydon as The Queen).She employs her Private Secretary (Glenn Graham) to find him a suitable partner and he delivers a highly unsuitable Girlfriend (Carrie Willis dizzily channelling Elle Woods from Legally Blonde). They have a disastrous date at the ballet, after which the Prince drunkenly makes an incestuous advance towards his own mother and is rebuffed. This opening is packed full of visual humour (the corgi on wheels being particularly effective), but also gives Bourne the opportunity to parody both the format of classical dance and the audiences that attend, utilising a 'play within a play' to show a typically cliché ridden ballet performance.

The Prince contemplates his miserable trapped existence in a park and encounters (or imagines) The Swan (Will Bozier); muscular torso and shaved head representing masculine perfection, the wretched Prince dreams of freedom and the opportunity to express his true sexuality. Bozier is mesmeric as The Swan, both athletic and aggressive, he encapsulates the avian qualities wholly. North and Bozier make a beguiling pair during their love duet, with the slighter framed North often lifted by the more powerful  Bozier and again acting to confound the gender norms associated with a traditional ballet performance. The Ball scene following the interval showcases Bozier further as he takes on the role of the Stranger. Seducing every woman in sight, he is the human personification of the cocky strutting Swan; swaggering and sexual, he dominates the stage throughout. 

The herd (correct collective noun, I checked) of Swans were a sibilant menace throughout their time on stage. I am not qualified to channel my inner Craig Revel Horwood enough to comment on the technical quality of the dancing (even after 50 years, I don't really know my Arabesque from my elbow), but the theatricality of their performance was astounding, Each member of the ensemble gave individual characterisation to their role, creating a believable whole and the final death scene was scarily realised as both the Prince and Swan met their fate together.

Every facet of this production was beautifully realised with costume and music blending to stunning effect (a beautiful violin solo early in Act Three shivered through the audience) and your eye was constantly drawn to every nuance and detail on the stage, repeated viewing is highly recommended in order to absorb the whole of the performance. It is Bourne's juxtaposition of classical ballet with modern musical theatricality which lifted this show into a different sphere. The early scenes in the Swank nightclub being reminiscent of a 1950's MGM musical whilst the Ball scene echoed 'West Side Story' in its inventive girls v boys dance rivalry. Lez Brotherston's stunning design and Paule Constable's award winning lighting allowed these technicolour panoramas to change seamlessly into the white, spare moonlight of the park, in a magical transformation which simply dazzles. 

The 1,700 seat Lyric Theatre at The Lowry was packed this evening and the capacity crowd roared and stamped its approval during several fully deserved curtain calls for the company. A five star Bourne Supremacy that audiences will be flocking to see again and again.

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 20th November 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★★