Absolutely everything comes together in this production: concept, choreography, music, design, and the huge talents of the dancer-actors. Nothing but extreme prudishness or professional jealousy could keep an audience from flipping for this work.
Inspired by Joseph Losey's film based on The Servant by Robin Maugham, Matthew Bourne's flawless choreography hits the highlights of 1960s England, the lowlights of any master-and-servant relationship, and a few stark lights of sexual power plays (in Paule Constable's nighttime palette, thoughts turn momentarily carnal and the scene becomes awash in scarlets). There's a subtle framing device to this dream of a show—or is Bourne reminding us that life goes on?
Action unfolds easily on Lez Brotherston's set, which reveals the upstairs/downstairs scenarios, as well as the backstairs that England's serving class must use. There are no curtains, wings, masks here; we humans can choose to reveal only as much of ourselves as we want, thank you. Brotherston's costumes, seemingly tailored tight, not only leave room for but also highlight movement.
Supported by his designers, Bourne double- and triple-casts his principal characters in this almost cinematic piece; we see scenes simultaneously play from different angles, forward and backward in time, or simultaneously at beginning, middle, and end. To Terry Davies' rich, jazz-infused score, Bourne's choreography is daring, but its execution looks safe: Dancers at no time seem in danger, their movement the equivalent of sleight-of-hand.
Who has the power in any relationship? The boyish, ineffectual Anthony (Sam Archer, Ewan Wardrop, and Richard Winsor) is affianced to the sultry Glenda (Michela Meazza, Anjali Mehra, Emily Piercy) and tended by his manservant (Scott Ambler, Steve Kirkham, Eddie Nixon). Anthony's eye wanders to his housemaid (Maxine Fone and Valentina Formenti); while Glenda is seduced by "an old friend" (Alan Vincent, Nixon, and Wardrop). At Anthony's party the Twiggy-era guests arrive, endearingly danced by all: the'60s fop, the wallflower, the leftover-glamorous, and the perpetually tweedy. They commence with cocktails, they amuse themselves with charades, they stay too long. Elsewhere onstage Bourne packs homes, bars, streets, and a crowded elevator ride out of the Underground.
Two tiny complaints. First, Bourne gives us so much onstage at once that we momentarily focus on one dancer and miss another. Second, it's all over far too soon, although he certainly concentrates everything he needs into the two acts. For my money, however, they could have danced all night.
"Play Without Words," presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Sun. 7:30 p.m. Apr. 17, May 1, 15 & 22. Also Thu. 2 p.m. Apr. 21, May 5 & 26; Dark Tue. Apr. 12.) Apr. 11-May 29. $30-85. (213) 628-2772.