The World of Matthew Bourne - Daily Telegraph

9 December 2006

Matthew Bourne describes his world to Ajesh Patalay


Matthew Bourne, 46, is best known for his 1995 version of Swan Lake featuring an all-male troupe of swans (revived at Sadler's Wells from December 13 to January 21).

His other successes include The Nutcracker, The Car Man, Highland Fling and Edward Scissorhands, as well as the choreography for the West End musicals Oliver!, My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins. He lives in north London with the dancer Arthur Pita.

Morning routine

If I've got a show on in the evenings, I get up between 9 and 9.30, 10 if it's been a late night. If I'm in rehearsal I get up earlier, around 8. Usually I'm in a hurry so all I have time to do is shower, get dressed and get out of the door. Though if I can I like to iron my clothes in the morning. Usually I grab a coffee and croissant on the way to rehearsals.

Fitness regime

You'd think my work as a choreographer would be physical, but these days it's less so. I don't get into a sweat. It's difficult to have a fitness regime, as I'm touring so much. But during a rehearsal period, I can go to the gym three times a week, and run or do weights. I like to be anonymous at the gym. As soon as I see someone I know I leave. I suppose I don't feel completely confident about being there.

What do you collect?

Dolls. It started years ago when I was on tour with my company Adventures in Motion Pictures. I'd go to charity shops in places like Cornwall and Devon and be drawn to these odd toys: ones that were a bit weird and had bits missing. In Mary Poppins there's a song inspired by my collection called Temper Temper where damaged toys come to life and put the children on trial for mistreatment.

One of the first toys I got was a ventriloquist's dummy which I called Lesley. I used to bring him to rehearsals for the original Nutcracker in 1992. My idea was that the Nutcracker doll was a ventriloquist's dummy come to life.

Best present given

Two and a half years ago I moved to my current house, a former church cottage next to a deconsecrated cemetery. When we arrived we found the floor of the cellar was paved two-deep in old tombstones. In the garden we found the gravestone for a 17th-century curate called George Merry, who once lived in the house. I promised to give one of the gravestones to the director Tim Burton, but I still haven't done it yet.

Favourite music

I have a playlist on my iPod of tracks that give me the tingles. It's a mix of show tunes (Rodgers and Hammerstein and Bernstein) and classical (Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Percy Grainger, who I love – I want his Colonial Song played at my funeral, it's bittersweet and uplifting).

Last time you cried

Watching A Chorus Line in New York recently. I hadn't seen it since I was 16 when it was on at Drury Lane and I saw it 11 times. That whole thing of feeling young again, having that memory recreated for you – the production used the same staging and costumes as the original – affected me in a way I didn't expect.

Bad habits

Biting my nails. It's how my nerves show. I'm placid to work with, I never shout or lose my temper. But I do get stressed. I also start belching and get an eye twitch before a show opens.


Twin chihuahuas called Grace and Mr Eddy. Both five.

What do you do to relax?

I've got a house in Brighton where I like to go for weekends. Apparently Albert Finney used to live there. It's one road away from the sea. I usually take the dogs with me and I'll walk on the beach. It's designed to be a place to have a good time. It's full of books, DVDs and games, a really nice coffee machine, bikes to go cycling. I love being able to give the keys to friends and family too.

Best present received

A Brenda Naylor sculpture of Adam Cooper in Swan Lake. Adam bought it for me after the original run to say thank you.

Most treasured possession

My autograph collection. One of my first signatures was from Ira Gershwin. I wrote to him when I was 15 and got his autograph back in the post.

For years I used to carry round the programme for the 1974 film That's Entertainment, and ask people to sign their pictures when I met them. I got Gene Kelly, Fred and Ginger and Bing Crosby, who I waited six hours for while he played a game of golf.

Now I have a guest book at my shows in Los Angeles, in which one of my favourite messages is from Barbra Streisand because I used to be such a fan ('Quite brilliant. An inspiration') and her husband James Brolin ('I have an affinity to anyone who just can't do anything the normal way').

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