Theatre Reviews: The Car Man, Lyceum Theatre

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Injury meant the title role was danced by the understudy’s understudy and opening night was overseen by choreographer Matthew Bourne himself, paying an impromptu Sheffield visit to his touring show.

No pressure, then, for the cast of The Car Man - Bizet’s Carmen ‘re-imagined’ by Bourne with the stirring music of the opera set to a sultry crime thriller based around film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, with the feel of West Side Story.

There’s a sticky, sweaty, ominous heat hanging heavy over the town of Harmony where the arrival of drifter Luca - Tim Hodges dancing powerfully a role you’d never know wasn’t his own - seals every character’s fate.

It’s always remarkable the way choreography can tell a story without words, and it’s clear something very bad is going to happen from the first swing of a spanner in Dino’s greasy garage.

The tension builds inevitably to murder through exhilarating scenes beneath the fizzing neon sign of the diner, among the sizzling chirp of crickets, and amid the heartpounding thrill of bloody bareknuckle fights, steamy sexual encounters and swirling, soaring, stampeding dance.

Zizi Strallen was our Lana, the wife with blood on her hands, and Alan Vincent her doomed husband Dino, returning to the production 15 years after making the role of Luca his own when the show premiered in 2000.

Until Saturday, June 27

* Sarah Crabtree

French Without Tears, University Drama Studio

French without Tears was first staged in London in 1936 to critical acclaim. Written by Terence Rattigan when he was 25, it’s based on his own experiences at a language school - on a crammer course for young men hoping to get into the diplomatic service.

The play hasn’t dated well, and both the setting and the characters now seem, well, quaint - if not archaic. The first half is really rather tiresome, but things do perk up and build afer the interval, wih some telling -and funny - set-pieces.

Nathan Brown is jolly good as the Hon. Alan Howard (young Rattigan) and David Byrne cuts a dash as a “sweet little thing.” Excellent playing, too, from John Baron as the older - but no wiser - naval commander. All three are simply spiffing in the scene featuring fancy dress, drunken male bonding and a plot to engage “the enemy.”

What is fascinating is just how scared these men are of women. The enemy. Women come in two guises in this play: nice/not nice, but either way they’re simply man traps. Rebecca Barnes does give “nice” Jacqueline some depth, but Heather Knowles can’t make “nasty” Diana at all believable. Which is hardly surprising, given that the role - a woman whose sole purpose in life is to make men fall in love with her - is frankly bonkers. Mind, Rattigan’s characterisation is paper-thin throughout.

The Sheffield University Drama Society production is ably enough directed by Charlotte Steels, set design works well and the denouement (the French is catching) is worth the wait.

* Marion Haywood