Nutcracker! was the first big hit for choreographer, Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures company. Thirty years on it still feels edgy, encapsulating the inventiveness and energy Bourne’s work has become synonymous with over the years.
This is Tchaikovsky’s classical ballet, but not as you know it. And for New Adventures’ fans used to Bourne’s exciting mix of classical and contemporary dance styles, this production, newly-designed and refreshed for its anniversary year, has a few surprises too.
Unlike most Nutcracker productions, which open with a luxurious Christmas scene, Bourne’s version raises the curtain on an oppressive Dickensian orphanage run by the hideous Dr and Mrs Dross and their children, Fritz and Sugar.
One of its young residents, Clara has a nutcracker toy, which she treasures. When it is broken, by the Dross’ children, she is heartbroken. Her friends try to piece it back together. But snapping the toy has unleashed an unstoppable force that sets off a chain of events propelling Clara and her friends out of their dark monochrome world of the orphanage to a place of their dreams.
Like Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Clara meets familiar faces in different guises along her journey across the Frozen Lake to the technicolour whirl of Sweetieland.
Throughout, Anthony Ward’s oversized designs draw us in to this strange fantasy world, in an almost cartoon, graphic novel type way. By the time we get to Sweetieland his costumes reach pantomime dame garishness, each one bolder and more extravagant than the next. Add to this the sharp wit of Bourne’s choreography and you get an exploding kaleidoscope of cheeky fun that feels like a big kid running wild in a sweet shop, with all the knowing of an adult and the joyous abandon of a child. You’ll never hear Waltz of the Flowers in the same way again.
Of course, as always, the dancers are technically brilliant. But a special mention must go to Dominic North, who brings a unique spark and terrific comic timing to both spoiled Fritz and gluttonous Prince Bon Bon. Harrison Dowzell is the perfect dream prince as Nutcracker and Cordelia Braithwaite wins our hearts as the heroine, Clara.
In all, the show is a delicious mix of styles. It’s saucy, funny, sinister, joyous and romantic all in two crazy hours. And after the year we’ve had it’s a sweet treat not to be missed.
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is at The Lowry, Salford from 23 November to 4 December 2021.