Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: David Guest

Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

Music: Tchaikovsky

An explosion of energy, colour and festive fun, Sir Matthew Bourne’s dazzling reimagining of The Nutcracker is back onto the stage ten years after its last appearance and on the brink of its 30th anniversary.

From Miniature Overture to grand finale, Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is a Christmas confection to warm the heart and tickle the taste buds and must be one of those all too rare examples of a show that you miss at your peril. One suspects even Tchaikovsky would be chuffed at the way his memorable music has been reinterpreted and constructed as a two-act ballet that is both familiar and fresh. All credit to Rowland Lee for his orchestrations and to Brett Morris conducting the superb live orchestra.

Bourne’s last offering, The Midnight Bell, was dark, seductive and passionate but this slightly revamped version of Nutcracker! couldn’t be more of a contrast, with its shift from grim real-world greyness to pure Hollywood pizazz. The skilful creativity of this dance piece is, that despite all the sugar-bursts, the story is far from being saccharine. The frolics of the original ballet’s children’s Christmas party are replaced here by a dismal orphanage which would make Dickens shudder, where a cruel superintendent and his family rule with a rod of iron and where the downtrodden kids are forced to put on a show of everything being cosily Christmassy for the stiff-necked governors.

But even the stingiest of decorations add colour to the monochrome existence and it’s not long until an initially menacing ventriloquist’s doll takes on a heroic mantle and offers the hope of escape into a magical world of freedom. It is nigh-impossible not to gasp at how inventive the scenario by Bourne, Martin Duncan and Anthony Ward (who also fills the space with the most ravishing designs) is, not least as the second act transports us not to a magic castle in the Land of Sweets but to the Sweetieland nightclub disco.

As the heroine. Clara Cordelia Braithwaite is wide-eyed innocence with an injection of worldly-wisdom and there’s never any doubt that she will win the day. She is beautifully matched by Harrison Dowzell’s enchanting Nutcracker Prince; sleek, smooth and acrobatic as he rescues her from her orphanage prison only to be stolen by a bitter rival.

One of the absolute delights of the piece is that every one of the waifs and strays – introduced carefully right at the start by lining up on the stage with measures of confidence, winsomeness and naughtiness – has a mirror image in the dream world. It is an empowering and moving part of the narrative that each is offered their chance of escape.

So the greasily unpopular boy who struggles to fit in becomes the oily Knickerbocker Glory in Sweetieland, a performance of oleaginous perfection by Jonathan Luke Baker; the nerdy friends (Keenan Fletcher and Katrina Lyndon) become the Cupids – suitably attired in wings and pyjamas to make love dreams come true; the troublesome hard lads (Rory MacLeod, Cameron Flynn and Alistair Beattie) are the bothersome Gobstoppers bouncing around as if at a Mods weekend on Brighton seafront; the clique of mean girls become feathery Marshmallow Girls (Catrin Thomas, Stephanie Billers, Kurumi Kamayachi, Rose Goddard and Shoko Ito); and the remaining terrible trio are transformed into Allsorts (Monique Jonas, Isaac Peter Bowry, Stephen Murray) with a Latin lilt.

It’s hard not to love the villains of the piece: Dr Dross and his wife (Danny Reubens and Daisy May Kemp) are turned into an equally nefarious King Sherbert and Queen Candy; while Ashley Shaw and Dominic North give star turns as their daughter Sugar/Princess Sugar, who has her eye on the handsome Nutcracker prize, and son Fritz, who becomes Prince Bon-Bon, mischievous in both worlds.

It’s a show where nobody puts a foot wrong, where every performer dances with dazzling eye-popping energy and finesse. Not once is there a humbug moment – except for the appearance of the Humbug Club Bouncer of course!

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! has always been something special with all its ingredients blending to produce a recipe for success. If possible, this new production is even better – a faultless seasonal showstopper to engage the senses and melt the heart.

Continues until 30 January 2022

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Faultless show-stopping confection

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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