This latest outing for Matthew Bourne’s most famous (and best) work is billed as a revamped version, but the changes won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers – a new lighting design, costumes and some choreographic tweaks. His ‘Swan Lake’ is essentially what it always was: a subversive reboot of ballet’s best loved story, in which our Prince is a tormented young man, starved of affection by his ice-queen mother, who, at his lowest ebb, seems to find the love he craves – from a male swan.
For the London run, Bourne has scored a coup: the young Royal Ballet principal Matthew Ball plays the Swan. Muscular torso on display, Ball’s gorgeous technique and RPatz-like romantic melancholy keep your eyes fixed on him. On opening night he seemed tentative, but the real disappointment is that he hasn’t yet worked out how to channel his inner bad boy, which means his Act III turn, as the seductive, destructive, leather-trousered Stranger who crashes the Queen’s ball, falls flat, and his chemistry with Liam Mower’s Prince misfires.
Hopefully he’ll learn to let go. Meanwhile, there’s lots to love about this production. Mower is on fine form as the Prince – his tragic trajectory is sharply etched and affecting. Nicole Kabera as the Queen manages to combine a regal bearing with cougar rapacity. Katrina Lyndon’s Girlfriend is a magnificently blowsy creation. Bourne’s jocular visual asides and set pieces, and his affectionate ribbing of classical ballet tropes still raise a smile.
And then there is that troupe of male swans. who never seem to lose their feral power. Hissing, jabbing, stomping and swarming across the stage, they are thuggish, threatening, tribal – and totally mesmerising.