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Review: Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake The Legend Returns at Bristol Hippodrome

"A whole new audience for dance was created through this production" says Sir Matthew Bourne, director and choreographer of Swan Lake, the world's longest-running ballet. Indeed, this was my first time attending a ballet, and even though I'm not particularly familiar with the dance world, I already knew this production was most famous for the traditionally female roles of the swans being danced by men.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

First staged at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in 1995, it seems strange now to think that this was a controversial decision to make at the time, with some men in the audience walking out when The Swan and The Prince danced together. Twenty four years later, this updated production is currently touring the UK, with new designs, lighting, and some revised choreography which it is hoped will reinvent it for decades to come, whilst still retaining the iconic elements of the original show.

From the very first lively scenes in the palace, I knew this re-imagined production was going to be something special. Dominic North is utterly engaging as the lonely young Prince who is looking for love, his sadness and vulnerability clear for all to see. Katrina Lyndon plays the role of the non-conforming royal girlfriend with impeccable comic timing, bringing several lighter moments to the first half of the show.

Each and every scene is mesmerising, sometimes with so much taking place on the stage that it is difficult to know where to look. However it is Act 2, in a city park where The Prince first meets The Swan, dancing to Tchaikovsky's emotive original score, which really stands out in the first half. Will Bozier as The Swan is superb - athletic, strong and imposing, yet still retaining the graceful elegance of the creature he is portraying. The menacing all-male swan ensemble are brilliant too, and the beautiful set design of Lez Brotherston makes this scene completely magical.

Dominic North as The Prince & Will Bozier as The Swan

When Will Bozier appears as The Stranger at The Royal Ball in Act 3, his passionate dance with the excellent Nicole Kabera (The Queen) is just the beginning of another scene-stealing performance. The atmosphere was electric and the audience was totally captivated, as the intensity of the performances on the stage built up to a thrilling climax.

Will Bozier as The Stranger

By the time it came to the tragic final scene, I was on the edge of my seat. When the rest of the flock of swans fatally attack The Prince and his Swan lover, this is noticeably performed in almost full light, creating a stunning ending to a truly intense and breathtaking show.

Will Bozier as The Swan and the Swan ensemble

I can't recommend this production highly enough. It was so much more than I ever expected, more of a contemporary dance show than a ballet, and one that will take you on an unforgettable journey.

"I trust that this swan will continue to fly, inspire and lift up audiences for many years to come" says Sir Matthew. Judging by the loud and prolonged standing ovation from the audience on the opening night at Bristol Hippodrome, I don't think that is in any doubt.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake The Legend Returns is at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 16th March. Buy tickets here.

Disclaimer: I was offered two complimentary tickets for the show in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Photo credits: Johan Persson.