Reviewed by Jan Mellor
I had seen Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake last year at The Lowry in Manchester and it has haunted me ever since, so I was ecstatic when I saw that it was on at the Liverpool Empire. I persuaded my best friend to come with me who, determined not to enjoy it, moaned ‘I don’t like ballets ‘. I explained that Matthew Bourne ballets are ‘like nothing else she will ever see on stage’, so reluctantly, she joined me.
As we entered the theatre to the view of a large image of a swan on stage curtain – my heart jumped. Oh, I couldn’t wait! You see what Matthew Bourne and his amazing dancers do – is with sheer brilliance of stage set, stunning costumes and magnificent music of Tchaikovsky – is take you a different dimension, world, time and a place of fantasy that, as adults, we have lost since we have long since stopped believing in dragons, goblins and the tooth fairy. I have never been so whole- heartedly transported in a theatre before and I was hoping that the experience would be the same for my friend.
So as the music started, and the lights dimmed the swan ‘came alive’ and was ‘flown’ across the stage. The curtain rose to show us a young prince (played superbly by the very talented Liam Mower) in an enormous bed having nightmares and a vision of a stranger behind him. His mother (played by the stunningly beautiful and talented Nicole Kabera) enters – not to sooth him but to chastise him and together they prepare for royal business. The regalia of the royal household begins, and the prince meets a gorgeous girl – played by the talented and comical Freya Field – who is catastrophically below his station and they all go to the theatre. Here we see how uncouth his girlfriend is as the royal family watch a superb show of butterflies, tree creatures and a lumberjack. The girlfriend has the audience laughing out loud and somewhat distracted from the superb ‘stage within a stage show’ as she boos, issues sweets and answers her mobile phone – resulting in the embarrassed queen leaving the theatre completely humiliated.
Determined to find love and happiness the prince chases ‘his girl’ to the Swank bar, but he ends up getting into a brawl and is thrown out. The dancing, costumes and sheer energy of the bar scene was superb. He sits on the pavement outside of the bar and magically a swan again comes to life before us… jaw dropping! The prince bereft of affection from his mother and frustrated with his fickle hope of finding true love goes to the park, writes a suicide note and plans to end it all. The scene here is amazing with the enigmatic huge moon, twinkling stars and our introduction to the magnificent Swan – played with non-stop exhilterating talent by Max Westwell. The Swan is then accompanied by 15 awesome male swans and we are all (like the Prince) transfixed with this vision around him. The audience are left gaping mouthed as the sensual ‘creatures’ dance, (traditionally performed by female ballerinas). Absolutely astounding. The talent, passion and raw power on that stage was nothing short of miraculous. I cannot describe how powerful the dance scenes were – you must see them for yourself. Following the visit from the male swans – the Prince has an epiphany – realising that he is gay – rips up the suicide note, leaves the stage (and us all) in awe and exhilaration.
The second act begins with the royal family at a party, all the cast dressed in amazing costumes and refinery. A stranger breaks up the party and seduces all the females as they each in turn fall instantly for his enigma, passion and presence – this includes the prince who is besotted with this erotic man. The man seduces his mother – the Queen – and the Prince becomes overwhelmed with jealousy and tries to shoot them. He misses and ends up killing his failed suitor – the girlfriend and consequently, is sent to jail where he is looked after by ‘doll faced’ nurses who electrocute him then return him to his enormous bed in his palace. As he lays there the Swan King comes to him (sublimely through the centre of the bed) and as they try to embrace the other swans attack the Swan King and kill him and then as the queen tries to revive the prince he too has died. The tension in the theatre was tangible, electric and each person in the audience ceased to breathe.
Again, at this stage I was a blubbering mess and as I turned to my friend I could see this scene had affected her in the same way as we sat with fists clenched. The curtain fell to show on a mirror an image of the Prince and the Swan King embracing – which blew us all away. Whilst the cast took their bows every single person in the theatre was on their feet screaming their adoration and as a fellow reviewer beside me shouted ‘that is the best piece of theatre I have ever seen!’ me and my awestruck friend could not agree more.
The stars of this show – each and every one of the cast are truly remarkable, their skill, timing, talent, stage presence and magnetism are unsurpassed. The principles played by Dominic North (the prince) and Will Bozier (the Swan King) were absolutely incredible. As I write this – I just want to go and see it all again. It was an absolute dream of a performance and I really don’t want to wake up. Go and see this performance – it will knock you out.
Truly a work of art – an unbelievable performance! The most magnificent performance on stage you will ever see!
Tickets cost from £13 to £58.90 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at the Liverpool Empire from 9-13 April 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool or call the box office on 0844 8713017.
Liverpool Empire, Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE | 0844 8713017