Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake


Carl Reavey saw the performance at The King’s Theatre, Glasgow

It would be hard to overplay the emotional and visual impact of Matthew Bourne’s radical re-interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet Swan Lake. A touring production has just finished a run at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow some 19 years since it was first performed at Sadler’s Wells in London. The contemporary dance still projects extraordinary power.

The swans, traditionally a very feminine troupe of tutu clad birds, are played by muscular men in Bourne’s version, provocatively naked to the waist with be-feathered thighs below. There are undoubtedly homo-erotic elements to the performance, but these remain undertones through the complex and challenging plot.

While there are many references to the classical script and characters, this is much more than a simple re-write. A tragic love story brim-full of menace and madness comes complete with a very sticky end.

The dancing is magnificently controlled, classical lifts and moves being punctuated by the occasional bump and grind. While there is a certain amount of parody, there is also acknowledgement of the great traditions of the genre. Costumes are memorable, with the swans always the most radical element, the rest of the cast being brutally over-dressed in an overt display of character assassination.

The set is minimalist, but very clever, brilliant use being made of a bed at different points, plus some almost neo-Nazi architectural constructs and banners. The lighting is inspired, in no way flash or dependent on special effects, just carefully and artfully deployed. The use of footlights to project shadows is very powerful, original, and not over used. The classic score is recorded rather than played by a live orchestra but the house sound system is just about good enough to carry it off.

The King’s Theatre in Glasgow is a lovely faux Gothic music hall venue that first opened its doors in 1904. It seats nearly 1,800 with three elaborately decorated balconies reaching high above the stalls. Billy Connolly memorably described it is like playing in a wedding cake.

As the curtain came down on this most memorable evening of modern dance, 1,800 Glaswegians rose to their feet and cheered. Quite right too.

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