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Review: Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures at the Liverpool Playhouse

Bourne can 'excite and ignite passion in all ages'

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures - Watch with Mother(Image: Johan Persson)

If you like your Pomp and Circumstance ukelele rather than Prom orchestra style, then be sure not to miss an adventure at the Liverpool Playhouse this week.

The UK’s most popular living choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne is in the city for five days celebrating 30 years of his company New Adventures.

The triple-bill is a nostalgic look at England, English values and English stereotypes of the French - ideal fare for the week of the signing of Article 50. As Bourne says in the post-show Q&A, life in England was probably never like that but, hey, the ink is already dried on the paper.

There is music from Edward Elgar, songs from Noel Coward and the wit of Joyce Grenfell, names from a dim and distant past, yet with relevance for the 21st century world.

After all, who did Radio 3 turn to last week after the horrendous attack in London to remind us of our London Pride?

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures - Country(Image: Johan Persson)

As a fan of Bourne and New Adventures since the late 1980s when it all began, the evening is a strange precursor to all that came after. In Town and Country we see the foundations of the swan movement from his all-male Swan Lake, his dual duet in Brief Encounter reminds us of the less well known Play Without Words, in which more than one dancer plays the same part at the same time, and the references to bygone days foreshadow his treatment of the classics like The Nutcracker and Cinderella.

Humour plays a large part of course, from the company that early reviewers described as ‘the funny company’ and the bath scene in the urbane Town and the clog dance in the bucolic Country were laugh out loud moments.

This is the 20-something Matthew Bourne so expect sex - homosexual and heterosexual. There are scenes which would have shocked in 1987 but he always resorts to humour to dissipate any uneasiness and the action moves on. I like my sex understated and the moving duet in Town, where two men don’t actually make eye contact, is sublime. Bourne himself danced this in the early days and I only wish we could buy the video.

The vignette of a young man in a suit working at an embroidery circle in Town speaks volumes for equality balanced by buxom milkmaids in Country, which serve to remind us that perhaps it is still a long way off.

Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures(Image: Johan Persson)

Back to Brexit - The Infernal Galop (A French Dance with English Subtitles) covers all the clichés you would expect - jaunty matelots in stripy shirts, a mournful duet to Edith Piaf and a gay encounter in a pissoir but it is the deliberately understated can can which leads my daughter and I to discuss why it is so underplayed. I think there are echoes of revolution, she thinks it’s just because the English think the French are grumpy. European independence - here we come!

Bourne is keen to attract an audience who think they don’t like dance and have never really been to see anything like this. There was a woman in the audience, of a certain age, who was ‘new to all this’ and it is great to see that, despite being on the GCSE dance syllabus, he can still excite and ignite passion and interest in all ages.

For me, it was like looking in wonder at the etchings of Leonardo da Vinci and then booking your next trip to the Louvre to stand in front of the Mona Lisa.

Roll on The Red Shoes at The Liverpool Empire Theatre in June.

Early Adventures is at the Liverpool Playhouse is at the Playhouse until Saturday April 1. The Red Shoes is at The Liverpool Empire from Tuesday, June 27 - Saturday, July 1.

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