IT is nearly a quarter of a century since Matthew Bourne stunned the ballet world with his re-working of Swan Lake. Featuring a menacing all-male swan ensemble, bare-chested in feather britches, it upset purists but delighted theatre-goers, and became the longest running ballet on the West End and Broadway.

First staged in 1995, it remains his best-known work. Now he has revived it for a new tour. "So many people see it again and bring friends and family. That's the growth of the show over the years - people wanting others to see it," says Matthew. "We know, from discussions with the cast, how inspiring it can be for young people; I think it felt very cool and masculine, yet required artistry and sensitivity. That mixture inspired young men to get into dance. It still seems to move and inspire people."

This is a show seen by millions. Is it a bigger challenge to revisit this than other shows in the repertoire? "It’s an interesting point about changing a piece that's so well-loved," says Matthew. "We’ve made these changes for several reasons - one, that it’s been around for 23 years and Lez Brotherston (set and costume designer) and I felt it was a great opportunity to refresh it. Many people probably won’t recognise many changes we’ve made, we know, however, that we’ve made hundreds of little changes."

What led to the original production? "I didn’t see any point creating a Swan Lake similar to the others, mostly they were classical versions and we’re not a classical company," says Matthew. "We tell a story through movement in a different way. The male swans were the big idea and a secondary idea was Royal scandal. This was daily news while we were making the piece, with Diana, Charles and Camilla so it was topical to have a Prince who couldn’t be the person he really was, or be with who he wanted to be with. I thought that would be picked up on when the show was first seen, but the attention was much more on the male swans.

"We had audiences walking out when the Prince and the Swan danced together, little girls in tears that it wasn’t performed with tutus and pointe shoes. We had a slightly aggressive attitude from some audience members, and others refused to see it. It got dubbed ‘the gay Swan Lake’, which wasn't what the aim was, but it certainly was a story that was meaningful for gay audiences, and I celebrate that. It’s accepted now by a much wider audience, I think they find it uplifting that this is about a young man confused about his sexuality."

Cinema was an early influence on Matthew, and film references are woven throughout his work. Hitchcock’s The Birds was an inspiration for Swan Lake. "There are little filmic things creeping in, because my head is full of those. There’s an amazing scene in The Birds where Tippi Hedren is on a bench with a climbing frame behind her; a bird swoops onto it and she looks around and notices it. Next time she lifts her compact mirror the reflection is full of birds all waiting to fly at her. We do this with swans on the Prince's bed...

* Swan Lake is at the Alhambra, November 6 - 10. Call (01274) 432000.