Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words is exactly that, a narrative conveyed through movement rather than speech. Bourne was inspired by Joseph Losey’s film The Servant, starring Dirk Bogarde. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay and the brooding ambiguity of the film triggered the idea of this intimate dance theatre piece. Technically demanding, the production requires dancers who can act rather than vice versa. Indeed, the cast are remarkable in their physical articulacy, conveying character and plot through open, accessible dancing and body language. Cleverly, Bourne has cast more than one dancer to play each leading role simultaneously. Visually this is incredibly satisfying since there is always some movement to watch and at the same time the layers of choreography build complementary aspects of each character.

The ‘feel’ of the early sixties is evoked by Lez Brotherston’s impressive set, filled with period detail and transporting us from smart drawing rooms to seedy strip clubs. This is complemented by glamorous costume designs and back-combed hair, but most of all the period feel is evoked powerfully by the captivating score, composed by Terry Davies. The music not only captures the sound of the sixties, it creates a sense of location and emotion, suggesting the cool jazz of smoky basement clubs as well as the heated passion and internal angst of the characters.

At the core of the performance are the two preoccupations of a society which had just looked back in anger, namely sex and class. This is played out through the microcosm of a domestic upstairs/downstairs scenario, set in a house in Chelsea and a series of contrasting London locations which show a society in a state of flux and characters both welcoming and fearful of emotional and social change.

It’s hard to believe that this revival at Sadler’s Wells, takes place ten years after the piece was first performed at the National Theatre, marking the 25th anniversary of Bourne’s dance company New Adventures. It’s equally hard to believe the sixties were half a century ago, especially when the period comes to life so effectively on the stage here. This trip back in time to the sixties is a sexy, cool, sophisticated treat of an evening with the power to seduce us all.

Play Without Words, at Sadler's WellsJulie Taylor reviews Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words at Sadler's Wells, London.4