DanceNorth WestReview

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! – Liverpool Empire Theatre

Reviewer: James Mac

Recipient of the 2019 Special Olivier Award, Sir Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures company have produced some of the most renowned and successful dance productions of the last three decades. Now, ten years since it was last performed; his production of the Nutcracker! takes the stage again, but be warned: it’s extremely high in sugar.

Jam-packed with extra helpings of wit, lashings of pathos, and sprinklings of laugh-out-loud comedy moments, this magical adventure, makes a delectable recipe that’s guaranteed to please audience members of all ages. And it’s all down to the genius of Bourne’s ability to tell a story through dance and dance alone.

A truly unique blend of styles concoct Bourne’s signature movement tapestry. His distinctive hybrid of contemporary, ballet, mime, folk and even Fossè-esque jazz all play their part in his rich language, but it’s his prioritisation of characterisation and storytelling that makes him a true pioneer of the modern dance world.

His retelling of the Nutcracker defies traditional productions of the past from the offset, scrapping the plushy upper-class house we so often see this story take root in and instead plonking our heroine, Clara (Katrina Lyndon), slap bang in the middle of a sad and gloomy Dickensian orphanage, ruled by tyrannous Dr. Dross (Danny Reubens) and his wife, the matron (Steph Billers) both reveling in power and villainy whilst looking like something straight from a Tim Burton movie. It’s from this glum monochrome landscape we are transported (in true Wizard of Oz fashion) to the technicolor world of Clara’s dreamy Sweetieland – think Seussville meets Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (with a hint of psychedelic) courtesy of Anthony Ward’s spectacular sets.

Providing exaggerated cartoon backdrops featuring a rainbow kaleidoscope of patterns and vibrant candy colours, we are guided through the various destinations on Clara’s quest. Equally pleasing are Ward’s costumes, which enhance the caricature portraits brought to life by the choreography and talented cast. Ward’s set design certainly provides multiple “wow” moments. Spectacle comes in the form of a floating bed piloted by the delightful cupids (danced beautifully by Alistair Beattie and Rose Goddard in perfect synchronicity) and a ginormous multi-tier wedding cake, decorated with cake toppings, candles and 13 cast members. Yes, it’s that big.

Tchaikovsky’s infamous Nutcracker score is given a completely new lease of life in Bourne’s version. The cast of multifaceted dancers twist and vibrate to the orchestrations, with sensuous thrusting almost juxtaposing the sweet candy world created.

The narrative is set up in a beautifully simple and playful opening sequence, allowing each dancer to introduce us to their orphan characters who later appear in Clara’s dreamworld as an array of confectionary treats come to life: flamenco-dancing Liquorice Allsorts, boyishly brutish gobstoppers and the cliquey mean-girls esque marshmallow girls, led by a very watchable Monique Jonas who is consistently characterful throughout. Also noteworthy is Jonathan Luke Baker as the flamboyantly sensuous Knickerbocker glory, bringing just the right cocktail of glamour and gluttony.

Katrina Lyndon dances Clara with real dynamism, giving us empathy, comedy, and drama. She is a magnetic presence on stage, drawing us in as she navigates us through each of the lands we visit throughout the narrative. Her precision and control – flawless. Her Nutcracker doll is magically brought to life at the stroke of midnight, danced exquisitely by Harrison Dowzell, whose elasticity and detailed movement quality make him so convincing as the live rubber doll, before unmasking himself as teen idol heartthrob, inviting Clara on her escapade to Sweetieland.

The stand-out performance for this reviewer comes from Stephen Murray, dancing in the role of Fritz, Dr. Dross’ obnoxiously pretentious son, who transforms to become the cheeky Prince Bon Bon, oozing mischief. He ascends into the latter role with gusto, bringing bags of charisma and sass. His stellar technique, married with his infectious musicality made for an electric performance, matching the colourful world that creates a true feast for the senses.

Runs until 5 March 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Perfectly sweet

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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