Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
April 12-16 (Nottingham); April 19-23 (Woking)
Review: William Ruff
Matthew Bourne’s Technicolor extravaganza leaves a lump in the throat as well as a huge smile on the lips
If it were any other show than Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!, you’d probably be offered psychiatric help (or even locked up) if you expressed a strong urge to lick, nibble and chew members of the cast. But in Sweetieland the temptation is just too great. The Liquorice All Sorts are just too plump, the marshmallows too enticingly fluffy, the gobstoppers too dangerously big and shiny, the knickerbocker glory too gorgeously gooey. And they are definitely worth all the calories.
Nutcracker! Is nearly thirty years old, but it had lost none of its freshness and none of its ability to delight audiences. The current version has been touring since before Christmas but it hasn’t lost the spring in its step. As soon as the orphans line up in the show’s opening minutes you know that everything is going to be as crisp and sharply focused as on the opening night. Even before they dance a step the young company impress as actors, all vividly characterised, all brimming with pent-up energy.
This version of Tchaikovsky’s classic is famed for the bright colours of its second Act, but it begins much more darkly, in a grey orphanage presided over by the sinister Dr Gross (Reece Causton) and his wife (Stephanie Billers), whose strutting and sharp elbows put one in mind of children’s home horror stories. However, things are never allowed to get too serious, the children fighting back against oppression with plenty of wit and physical energy. The nutcracker Clara (Cordelia Braithwaite) chooses as her Christmas present is more like a ventriloquist’s dummy. When by magic it becomes flesh and blood, the effect is breath-taking, especially when played by Harrison Dowzell, a local lad from Radcliffe on Trent, whose physique suggests some serious gym work-outs.
Despite all the sweetness the show has things to say about love, desire and the frustrations of being young. Through the power of Clara’s imagination characters from her gloomy reality are transformed in the show’s second half into sweets. Tchaikovsky’s famous sequence of national dances are transformed into numbers for Allsorts, gobstoppers, marshmallows, walnut whips etc – all against the background of a giant, red lip-sticked mouth. There is also the biggest wedding cake ever seen on a stage, big enough for all the company to ride on as if it was some sort of ocean-going vessel. Ben Brown excelled himself as the Knickerbocker Glory, resplendent in smoking jacket and topped by a cherry on a bed of whipped cream.
Matthew Bourne’s style of choreography isn’t exactly classical ballet. It’s whatever suits character and situation. Some of it is traditional, but more of it isn’t. Whatever the style, it all melds into a seamless whole, always enabling vivid story-telling. Everyone in the Company has the ability to defy gravity, whether as downtrodden orphans, ice skaters or sweets. And in Matthew Bourne’s shows everyone has to be multi-talented. The cast list shows frequent changing of roles between performances – which means for many in the Company not only different dance steps but lots of acting range as well. Each performance is sharply etched and finely detailed.
The only disappointing thing about Nutcracker! is that it has to come to an end. It received huge cheers from the audience, amongst which must have been some very lucky children for whom this was their first experience of live theatre. At the end of the show Clara’s dream comes true and she escapes into a better world. Yes, it’s one of those shows: it leaves a lump in the throat as well as a huge smile on the lips.
(Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
Theatre Royal, Nottingham April 12-16 2022
New Victoria Theatre, Woking April 19-23 2022
Cordelia Braithwaite Clara
Ashley Shaw and Monique Jonas Princess Sugar.
Harrison Dowzell Nutcracker
Dominic North Fritz
Ashley Shaw Sugar
Reece Causton Dr Dross
Stephanie Billers Mrs Dross
The Company, Sweeties etc:
Jonathon Luke Baker
Benjamin Barlow Bazeley
Isaac Peter Bowry
Gabrielle de Souza
Sir Matthew Bourne Director/Choreographer
Anthony Ward Designer
Howard Harrison Lighting Designer
Paul Groothius Sound Designer
Duncan McLean Projection Designer
Rowland Lee Musical Associate/Arranger
Martin Duncan Co-Devisor, original production
Brett Morris Music Director
Etta Murfitt Associate Director