Writer: Matthew Bourne, Martin Duncan, Anthony Ward (original Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
Director: Matthew Bourne
It is 30 years since Matthew Bourne first brought his version of The Nutcracker to the stage. Theatre Royal Plymouth is the first step in a new tour bringing a refreshed version of this hugely popular production.
This classic fairy tale gets a full “Bourne makeover”. Bourne’s light-handed approach to traditional story-telling moves the opening scenes from the original, ostentatiously Victorian, opulent Christmas to a grim, Dickensian orphanage. Gone is the sparkling exuberant festivity of a generously decorated tree and presents surrounded by excited families in the traditional version. In Bourne’s hands, orphaned children are housed in a tiled, vaulted, monochrome dormitory (designed by Anthony Ward) with four children crammed into each of the iron beds.
Identically clothed in grey the children are lined up to entertain their benefactors and the fearsome managers of the orphanage, Mr and Mrs Dross, in exchange for a few second-hand presents. The mean behaviour of the adults and dismal surroundings contrasts sharply with the delight of the children despite the modest presents and almost naked Christmas tree.
Once the night descends, the cell-like walls ingeniously crumble and we are transformed into a technicolour world of bright candy colours and frothy clouds. A bright red mouth spanning the stage acts as a constant reminder to the candy fuelled world the orphans might only dream about. In this bright world, Bourne has the most fun. The orphans hilariously either become fluffy, marshmallow girls; gobstopper, biking boy gangs; flamenco-style liquorice all-sorts; pyjama-clad cupids; and even a knickerbocker glory in this sugary Sweetieland. Choreography ranges from breath-taking and romantically fluid to jerky, dissonant and cheeky.
The heartbreaking tale at the centre of the fairy tale comes close to getting lost in the frenzy of colour and dance in Sweetieland. But this is a Christmas show after all, so Bourne pulls it all together just in time.
This is truly an ensemble production. Not just the cast on stage but also the costumes, set and, of course, Tchaikovsky’s famous score. But, as ever, Bourne’s bold sense of humour and wit punching through the entire evening makes it an especially unique, crowd-pleasing, evening.
Runs until 20 November 2021