The Car Man

Yesterday morning, a dancer called Jonathan Ollivier was out on his motorbike in central London when he suddenly collided with a car.

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A couple of hours later, we sat in the packed auditorium at Sadler’s Wells watching Matthew Bourne’s extraordinary ballet Car Man, loosely based on the Bizet opera Carmen. Car Man is set in the tiny American town of Harmony, whose only life revolves around a car repair business and a diner, both owned by beefy patriarch Dino. The place is full of burly boys and girls in print dresses, all sighing in the southern heat. Luckily Bourne doesn’t bother with traditional boys’ ballet costumes so all those wonderful muscles which are usually hidden under Prince Charming’s jacket were very much out on show. Temperatures and passions rise still higher when a stranger drives into town, electrifying Dino’s neglected wife, Lana, and also the runt of the litter of mechanics, a young man called Angelo.

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I won’t reveal all – apparently Matthew Bourne hates it when audiences know the plot before they see the show – suffice to say that gas is not the only thing that gets pumped and the bodywork being buffed is not all on the cars. Phew, it’s hot stuff – and it leads straight to disaster.

An extra excitement came when we spotted Layton Williams in the cast – he is a great favourite with Child One and Two (and me) as the brilliantly impish Steven in Jack Whitehall’s sitcom Bad Education, which we love. What a talented lad he is – he has a great gift for comedy, he’s a brilliant dancer and he was displaying a tremendous six pack on stage yesterday – true multi-tasking, and he’s only 20.

We saw the matinee, which was a complete sell-out, but our ballet-mad friends who got us the tickets (and thank you so much) were a bit wistful as yesterday evening’s performance was to be the last of the run and was going to be electrifying. We found it hard to imagine it could possibly be as good as the performance we had just watched, which ended with a seven-minute-long standing ovation, but they said the pent-up emotions of the rest of the run would be let out in one epic last performance, during which injuries and fatigue would be forgotten, for a few hours of transcendent passion.

We all went off to a nearby restaurant afterwards for an early supper. I won’t tell you which one as the service, though very well meaning, was bumbling in the extreme, and poor TL’s main course looked like an ancient oven-baked shoe and tasted not dissimilar. It didn’t matter, though, as we happily discussed the show and bonded with other diners over various mixed-up orders and spilled drinks. The people opposite us had tickets for the much-coveted evening show and I was rather envious, though I was still convinced that we’d seen the best version ever of Car Man.

Eventually we decided to trickle home, and we passed Sadler’s Wells again on the way back to our car. It was just before 7.30 – kick-off time for the evening show – but as we approached the atmosphere seemed strange and muted and I noticed a girl crying by the stage door. There were lots of staff outside in Sadler’s Wells T shirts and one approached us. ‘Are you coming to the show? You do know it’s been cancelled?’ We waved their concerns away. ‘We’ve already seen it,’ we smiled, hurrying to get home.

But why had the show been cancelled? What could have happened, we wondered on the drive home? There had been no murmurs, earlier, of not putting on the evening performance. Far from it.

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We found out later.

Jonathan Ollivier, the dancer who collided with a car yesterday morning, died at the scene of the crash, despite the efforts of police, paramedics and an air ambulance.

He had been going to play the lead in yesterday evening’s performance of Car Man.

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