Nutcracker!

Choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2003)

Innovation is the name of Matthew Bourne's game. The impression made by his all-male Swan Lake, along with The Car Man, his reworking of Carmen, electrified the dance world and created an interest which went far beyind the world of the balletomane. His success last week in the Oliviers with his National Theatre production Play Without Words confirmed his reputation for exciting new work.

What is less known - at least to those who, like this reviewer, are not particularly fans of the ballet - is that in 1992 he produced a centenary version of The Nutcracker which radically altered the traditional storyline. This latest version does not simply revive the 1992 production, but develops it. It retains the earlier scenario, which was developed by Bourne and Martin Duncan (currently artistic director at the Chichester Festival), but has been "substantially re-choreographed".

"Our aim," he says, "has been to take a fresh look at every aspect of the show whilst retaining the innocence and charm of the original production."

There's nothing sugary or sentimental about this Nutcracker! - it is lively and full of fun, whilst retaining the world of fantasy, which has been realised in a much more modern way. And it is far from predictable: as one member of the audience said to me afterwards, "I though he was going to run out of music before he got to the happy ending!"

There's an inventiveness about Bourne's choreography, which is perfectly matched by Anthony Ward's designs, which range from the first act's drab and threatening orphanage (very Dickensian!) through to the exuberance of a gigantic wedding cake on which, at one point, all the cast perch.

The national dances in the Land of Sweets in the original choreography have been replaced by a series of... sweets! A mint humbug who is the bouncer outside the nightclub in which the wedding is to take place, three liquorice allsorts (who also happen to be Spanish dancers), a troupe of pink marshmallow girls, three thuggish gobstoppers, and a wonderfully Terry Thomas-ish knickerbocker glory!

It's not often that you go to a ballet to find the audience not only appreciating the ingenuity of the choreographer and the skill of the dancers, but also laughing heartily right from the off.

But this is a show which will appeal to a far wider audience than ballet fans. It is real theatre and well worth seeing, even if you've never seen a ballet in your life. And if you have seen a ballet and not liked it, you'll have to be very insensitive not to enjoy this.

Nutcracker! is at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, until Saturday 22nd February, and then goes on to:

Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe
25th February to 1st March

Milton Keynes Theatre
4th to 8th March

New Victoria, Woking
11th to 15th March

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
25th to 29th March

Theatre Royal, Norwich
2nd to 5th April

Hippodrome, Birmingham
8th to 12th April

Regent, Stoke
15th to 19th April

Grand, Leeds
21st to 26th April

King's, Glasgow
29th April to 3rd May

His Majesty's, Aberdeen
6th to 10th May

Lyceum, Sheffield
13th to 17th May

Theatre Royal, Nottingham
20th to 24th May

Reviewer: Peter Lathan