Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Alhambra – review

The prince and the swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.
The prince and the swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.

What I know about ballet would probably fit on the back of a postage stamp.

I’m no aficionado – and ballet has a stuffy reputation, which can be off-putting.

But even a philistine like me has heard of Swan Lake, which must be one of the most famous ballets in the world.

So when I got the chance to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Bradford Alhambra on Wednesday, I was expecting to be dazzled by beautiful performers but not really have a clue what was happening!

It fulfilled my expectations of the dancers, but the production itself could not be more different.

As in the original, the story centres on a young prince who is told he must find a bride by his mother.

The prince meets a swan at the lake – but in Matthew Bourne’s production, choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s original score, all the swans are male.

The story ultimately ends in tragedy, but along the way it’s packed with comedy, drama and emotion.

I went to the production expecting a traditional ballet with tutus and pointe shoes, but the only time a dancer was on pointe was when the main characters were watching a ballet within the show!

I had never considered Swan Lake could be humorous, but Anjali Mehra as The Girlfriend stole the show as the prince’s ditzy date and had everyone in stitches with her expressions.

Matthew Bourne says when the show was first performed, audience members would walk out – men who couldn’t handle the male swan dancing with the prince, and others who complained it wasn’t the real Swan Lake.

They were probably traditionalists who believed ballet should be taken very seriously.

But I think Matthew Bourne, who describes his production as contemporary dance or theatre, has proved Swan Lake can be fun, and it doesn’t have to alienate people who might be put off by its elite reputation.

And I think the rest of the audience, who gave the cast a standing ovation, would agree.

• Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at the Alhambra until Saturday March 8. For tickets, phone 01274 432000.