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Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake review at Sadler’s Wells – ‘a superb revival’

The cast of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Johan Persson The cast of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Johan Persson
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There isn’t a wasted step in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. It’s been more than 20 years since Bourne’s brawny male birds first graced the Sadler’s stage in their feathery breeches, but the production remains as vital as ever, alive with intricate detail and soaring physicality.

Newly-minted Royal Ballet principal Matthew Ball triumphs in the dual role of the Swan and the Stranger, the latter an irresistibly pheromonal figure in leather trousers who whips up sexual disruption in Act II. As the former, Ball’s muscular intensity and creaturely otherness is combined with a fine haze of classicism, an easeful elevation that sets him apart from his feral flock.

The avian ensemble is truly entrancing – a hissing, snapping, stomping vision of mythic masculinity and unfettered physicality. Liam Mower gives a harrowing portrayal of the unloved Prince, revealing the sad, scared boy beneath the royal exterior. After a wary-turned-tender encounter with the Swan, his rapturous leaps and hopeful flurries are rendered with real poignancy.

Lez Brotherston’s designs – red and gilt finery, flanked by cold monolithic columns – provide a vivid terrain of material privilege and emotional privation. Even the corgi is hostile. Nicole Kabera’s Queen gives a masterclass in maternal malfeasance, while Katrina Lyndon’s vulgar Girlfriend is consistently hilarious.

The Opera House scene, featuring the onstage antics of a dyspeptic Sylph and a randy tree goblin with gnarled arboreal genitals, is also a comic marvel. The humour is offset by heartbreak, though, vulnerability overtaken by viciousness, as the cruelties of the world finally come to the fore.

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Royal Ballet principal Matthew Ball stars in a superb revival of Matthew Bourne’s masterpiece