Marcus Hyka reviews the beautiful and artistically supportive take on the infamous Nutcracker by Sir Matthew Bourne.
Thirty years on from the debut of Bourne’s creative vision and one-hundred and thirty years on from Tchaikovsky’s original ballet, New Adventures are once more touring the UK. Award-winning choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne continues to elevate the ballet format through his creative storytelling, which is at the forefront. Meanwhile, Anthony Ward’s vivacious set and costume design are at their most extravagant in the history of the show’s run.
The show’s opening is reimagined from the jump, as a bleakly bricked Dickensian orphanage awaits to greet audiences. The dancers/orphans hold a rigidity in their movements in this oppressive environment, which melts away as they escape to a winter wonderland. During the ending of the first half, the set morphs into a wintery snow-scape, complete with falling snowflakes, as the dancers deftly replicate ice-skating. However, Act II is where the real fun is to be had.
“The candy characters simulate the hedonistic sense of taste through flowing sweeps that eat up the space alongside the iconic score.”
When wishful protagonist Clara makes it to Sweetieland in her imaginary adventure, the muted palette explodes into fragments of colour. Each time the set transforms, it peels back another layer of edible excitement. The stage pops with pastels, and the audience is left audibly gasping when the doors to Sweetieland reveal a gargantuan cake atop with husband and wife, as well as the entire cast. In Sweetieland, the tauter movements are replaced with sensually gluttonous displays of decadence. The candy characters simulate the hedonistic sense of taste through flowing sweeps that eat up the space alongside the iconic score. Waltz of the Flowers is an especially memorable dance, as the notion of classical from Tchaikovsky’s music intermingles with the more contemporary, humorous movements of Bourne’s choreography. Tchaikovsky becomes permeated with new vitality through the bodies of these accomplished artists.
The overall success of the production is largely owed to the acting. All of the performers have visibly put so much time into crafting the personas of their characters. The humanity in these stories (however fantastical) echoes throughout, making for a sensory-dense viewing experience via Bourne’s reinventive imagination. This imagination also rectifies the errors of the original ballet’s problematic, culturally stereotypical “national” dances. Here, the dances have been transformed into boisterous sweetie routines with elevated and idiosyncratic choreography. Every human-candy-hybrid onstage has its own personality, and I honestly don’t think I’ll look at a bag of Liquorice Allsorts in the same way ever again. The characterisation of the dancers is so detailed that it is easy to forget these are adults portraying children or that the Gobstoppers are not actually real people. Dominic North and Ashley Shaw are particular standouts as Fritz/Prince Bon-Bon and Sugar/Princess Sugar. North’s comedic timing and vast pool of facial expressions allow for some enchanting character moments, whilst Shaw’s ability to make her “mean girl” roles so likeable is a testament to her acting and precision as a dancer.
“Every human-candy-hybrid onstage has its own personality, and I honestly don’t think I’ll look at a bag of Liquorice Allsorts in the same way ever again.”
It’s important to note, however, that this piece of theatre is not without its ethics. Seventeen out of the thirty-three dancers in the production have come through the New Adventures Talent Development programmes, marking an inspiring commitment from the company to nurture upcoming talent. In addition to this, Rose Goddard, who plays one of the delightful Cupids, told The Glasgow Guardian that the company supported its dancers with online classes and funding help throughout the pandemic. This is an essential lifeline for artists who were told their careers were no longer viable in the current climate. It’s so refreshing to hear of young, emerging talents being given the support they deserve.
“It’s so refreshing to hear of young, emerging talents being given the support they deserve.”
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! ensures its audiences depart with a sense of childlike joy after following the tales of these sugary-staged concoctions – the perfect escapist tonic for today. Bourne wittily modernises classical art through a fresh and exciting lens which simultaneously pays homage to his ballet’s predecessor. This is most notable during the emotional ending, which acts as a coming of age parable for Clara, signifying the closure of childhood and the move from old to new. The passing of the torch from Tchaikovsky’s ballet to this one.
Clearly, jubilation and heart are at the centre of this piece. Even during the curtain call, a tangible catharsis occurs for both audience and artist. The whimsy and exuberance of this ballet’s narrative only further strengthen such sensations, which are crucial to hold on to.
Anyways, I am now off to reinterpret the world through the lens of marshmallows and knickerbocker glories.