Edward Scissorhands

Sir Matthew Bourne, based on the film by Tim Burton
New Adventures
The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

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The company Credit: Johan Persson
Ashley Shaw (Kim Boggs) Credit: Johan Persson
The company Credit: Johan Persson

While reading the programme notes for Sir Matthew Bourne’s ballet version of Edward Scissorhands, I was not surprised to learn that the original film’s director (Tim Burton) and screenwriter (Caroline Thompson) first envisaged this strange story as a musical. Indeed, with its fairy-tale plot and heightened mise-en-scène, the characters of Edward Scissorhands often seem on the brink of bursting into song.

These same qualities—combined, of course, with Danny Elfman’s immortal score—also make Edward Scissorhands a prime candidate for the ballet treatment, particularly when one thinks of all the great ballets based on fairy tales, such as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake (all of which have been staged by Bourne).

Like the original 1990 film, Edward Scissorhands tells the story of a synthetic man who has been created by a grieving scientist as a replacement for his lost son. Tragically, the scientist dies before completing his experiment, leaving poor Edward (Stephen Murray) with blades for hands.

Now on his own, Edward leaves behind the safety of his gothic hilltop mansion and enters Hope Springs, a picture-perfect vision of small-town America. Here, he is taken in by the kindly Boggs family, and slowly but surely he manages to win the affections of the townspeople, most notably the teenage cheerleader Kim Boggs (Ashley Shaw). The novelty of Edward’s scissor hands eventually wears off, however, and is soon replaced with an urge to remove him from the town altogether.

Bourne is known for the clarity of his storytelling, and this is certainly visible within Edward Scissorhands. Take, for example, an early scene from the show ("The Suburban Ballet"), which manages to introduce all of the different members of the Hope Springs community—including both their various character traits and interlocking relationships—in a wonderfully vivid and succinct manner.

Stephen Murray excels in the title role, his awkward, shuffling movements beautifully conveying the character’s otherworldliness—like a benign Frankenstein’s monster. I can only imagine how challenging it must be to dance whilst encumbered with multiple pairs of scissors at the end of each arm, but Murray manages it with aplomb.

While the ensemble cast are terrific across the board, special praise must go to Ashley Shaw, who impresses during two pas de deux with Murray (one with scissors and one without), and Ben Brown as Jim, whose lithe athleticism makes him an intimidating love rival for Edward. Nicole Kabera is a riot as a sexually voracious neighbour, Joyce Monroe, and her attempted seduction of Edward provides one of the most amusing sequences in the show.

The striking visual style of the original film—in which gothic images are juxtaposed with candy-coloured Americana—is superbly reinterpreted by Lez Brotherston through his sets and costumes. One of the most memorable aspects of Edwards Scissorhands is the title character's genius for topiary, and this idea is explored to dazzling effect within a fantasy sequence which sees Edward and Kim dance whilst surrounded by an assembly of moving hedge figures.

The show’s makers have wisely chosen to keep much of Danny Elfman’s swooning score, but it has been skilfully adapted and developed by Terry Davies.

I am a greater admirer of Bourne’s work and have enjoyed all of his productions, from his iconic all-male version of Swan Lake, which made his reputation internationally, to the more recent Midnight Bell, which brought together the desperate characters of Patrick Hamilton’s interwar novels. While I wouldn’t necessarily place Edward Scissorhands in the top tier of his work, it nevertheless contains many of the magical qualities that we have comes to expect from Bourne.

Reviewer: James Ballands

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