Although thirty years old, this revival of New Adventures production of Nutcracker emerges fresh and good as new with some choreographic reworking and set redesign.
In Act I the action is relocated from a traditional Victorian middle-class drawing-room to a Dickensian orphanage overseen by the sadistic, quasi goose-stepping Dr Dross & his terrifying wife. Dross and his family rule the roost; the orphaned inmates are put upon and the milieu is cartoonishly drab. The set-up references many literary staples depicting children in loveless institutions.
However, there is no danger of falling into such a cliché thanks to the individual characterisations of the orphaned children by an engaging troupe of young dancers who create an innocent and genuinely touching dynamic.
Magic soon takes over. A doll given as a Christmas present to one of the girls comes to life, first as a monstrous cartoon character and then, transformed, as a handsome young man. The orphans rebel against the Dross family and escape to an enchanting frozen lake and then to the kingdom of Sweetieland where everything and everyone becomes delicious confectionery – quite literally.
The programme notes tell us the inhabitants of Sweetieland are judged not by how they look but how they taste. This involves a lot of licking, with dancers licking the set, licking themselves, licking one another. Which is all quite sensual and, combined with the cheeky sexiness that underscores so much of Bourne’s choreography, creates an interesting juxtaposition with the childlike imagery of the candy-inspired set and costumes. Strangely, this works. The subtext of the ballet is, at the end of the day, essentially about transition from childhood to sexual awakening.
The set and costumes for Act II are spectacular and great fun. However, one feels the set sometimes causes problems when it gets in the way of the dance. Two of the most iconic numbers, the Waltz of the Flowers, and the subsequent Pas de Deux, are both in danger of being overwhelmed, the former by a huge wedding cake, the latter an oversized garland of flowers. Consequently, the waltz fails to achieve the flow and momentum one might hope for, and the duet never quite takes flight.
Overall, this is a brilliant and thoughtful reimagining of a well-known and much-loved ballet. It manages to do something new while completely honouring the spirit of the original with innovative choreography, promising young soloists, ingenious ensemble, sumptuous sets, and delightful costumes.
Original Scenario devised by – Matthew Bourne (pictured), Martin Duncan and Anthony Ward
Director & Choreographer – Matthew Bourne
Designer – Anthony Ward
Lighting Designer – Howard Harrison
Sound Designer – Paul Groothius
Projection Designer – Duncan McLean
Associate Artistic Director – Etta Murfitt
Resident Director – Neil Westmoreland
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Orchestral Recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Brett Morris
Dr Dross – Danny Reubens
Matron, his wife – Daisy May Kemp
Sugar, their daughter – Ashley Shaw
Fritz, their son – Dominic North
Clara – Cordelia Braithwaite
Nutcracker – Harrison Dowzell
The Orphans – The Company
The Orphanage Governors – The Company
Princess Sugar – Ashley Shaw
Prince Bon-Bon – Dominic North
The Cupids – Enrique Ngbokota, Shoko Ito
King Sherbert – Danny Reubens
Queen Candy – Daisy May Kemp
The Humbug Bouncer – The Company
The Allsorts Trio – Monique Jonas, Keenan Fletcher, Harry Ondrak-Wright
The Knickerbocker Glory – Ben Brown
The Marshmallow Girls – Jade Copas, Megan Ferguson, Kurumi Kamayachi, Kate Lyons, Catrin Thomas
The Gobstoppers – Alistair Beattie, Cameron Flynn, Stephen Murray