Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!
Sadler's Wells and touring
To 22 January 2012
Review by Vera Liber
Hard to believe this ‘rebourne’ production is nearly twenty years old. Refreshed and reinvigorated several times over, Nutcracker! continues to give much pleasure to young and old and in-betweeners of all persuasions.
In-jokes, tongue-in-cheek jokes, and lots of camp tomfoolery in characterisation and costume for which designer Anthony Ward must take much credit as part of a triumvirate scenario devising team.
A smile never left my face for the whole of the first act of Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! It slipped a bit in the second act, try as I might to keep it there. In the traditional Nutcracker, one waits for the second act to redeem the first—Ivanov’s Imperial choreography doing justice to Tchaikovsky’s superlative music.
Here it’s the other way round—the first act ingenious, the second struggling to satisfy the music and resorting to repetition and hamming to the audience. Nothing essentially wrong with that, but the music demands so much more.
Matthew Bourne, of course, can do no wrong. His warmth, cheeky humour, and love for musical comedy and Hollywood movies is well known, and it shines through. He is to be cherished, and cherished he is. His reinventions of classical ballets have broken down barriers. Long may he reign. And what a bottomless well of seasonal goodwill Nutcracker! is…
But first, in Dickensian style, adversity must be overcome. A bleak Christmas Eve at Dr. Dross’s Orphanage overseen by Matron his wife (very Vivienne Westwood), where orphan children are given presents by smug benefactors after they have put on a display of dance and gymnastics for them only to have them taken away when they depart. Fritz and Sugar, their spoilt children, snatch the best gifts in any case.
Clara gets a very ‘butch’ dummy of a doll in beige slacks and check jacket. A larger than life Clark Kent who, on the stroke of midnight, like Frankenstein’s monster causes electricity to rip through the building, splinter the wonderful Constructivist black and white set and open a getaway crack for the children.
From monochrome to Technicolor—where have we seen that before, the two sides of the coin, the bittersweet lollipop of life? Dorothy going from a drab to a vivid world, Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death…
But what an interesting bunch of waifs and strays they are, bunking two and four to a bed, forging friendships and mending hurts. We even get to see them in prologue as they come out sheepishly, shyly, in awe of the wolf-whistling friends, invited guests and press audience for inspection.
Wolf whistles they deserve. The performances are excellent—their individual personalities crossing the footlights—one can’t help but cheer. Dominic North has a smile to melt any rival, bad boy though he is, as Fritz Dross and Prince Bon-Bon of Sweetieland. As his sister Sugar and as Princess Sugar (not much of a journey there), Ashley Shaw sustains her bitchiness in dance and she gets her man. No wonder the Nutcracker gets an exclamation mark!
No, poor Clara does not get the ‘Nutcracker’. The course of love does not run smooth. Shallow preening man that he is, he is dazzled by royalty. Neither can Clara get into the Sweetieland club, ruled by King Sherbert (Daniel Wright a proper Andrew Logan in cake and candles crown) and Queen Candy (Madelaine Brennan very Zandra Rhodes)—the Roy Lichtenstein open mouth door barred by a burly Humbug Bouncer.
Invitation only. Demi-monde airheads have them but not Clara, even though two cupids in striped PJs and specs come to her rescue with a pretty blue polka dot dress. A trio of Spanish Liquorice Allsorts dance their way in, five ditsy leggy Marshmallow Girls (the Beverley Sisters cloned?) in fluffy pink hats get in and the Terry Thomas lounge lizard Knickerbocker Glory (Adam Maskell) abandons her on the doorstep after a seductive duet.
Faux macho poseurs, the Gobstopper bikers in dazzling pink, yellow and blue helmets force their way in too. A stage-filling ensemble wedding party follows, a huge Busby Berkley three-tier cake number, and then it’s over.
Back to the orphanage for Clara. No Nutcracker for her, but the boy she loves under the bedclothes with a rope of knotted sheets to help them escape through the Orphanage’s tall murky window into the real world outside.
It’s all there, the delicious Winterland skating scene (we were sitting next to Torvill and Dean—can you believe it!), the journey to Sweetieland on a duvet feather, the blue winter sky that turns pink, the fantasy and the coming of age. Lots of exhibitionism, and self-gratification, too.
Hannah Vassallo is a wide-eyed Clara and dances beautifully, as does Chris Trenfield as her false and real love. Two hours of blissful music and a marvellous company of dancers. What more could one ask for? More choreography in the second act maybe, that does not rely on goodwill.
And if you’re a fan of all things Bourne, which I must confess I am, next year you can overdose on more goodies. His Early Adventures and Play Without Words will be at Sadler’s Wells in May and July respectively to celebrate his twenty-five years in the business.
At Sadler’s Wells till 22nd January 2012 then touring till 19th May 2012 to Liverpool, Woking, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Glasgow, Leicester, Wimbledon, Salford, Norwich, Bradford, Oxford, Bristol. Plymouth, Nottingham, Dublin, Newcastle.