Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing review tickets for Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!
We might be closer to Easter than Christmas, but convention has never been on the menu for acclaimed choreographer Matthew Bourne. And so, amid the unusual March sunshine, my 12 year old daughter and I found ourselves transported to the brightly coloured candyland of Bourne’s imaginative interpretation of the traditional festive ballet, The Nutcracker.
Back on stage after an absence of 10 years, and celebrating its 30th anniversary, Nutcracker! opened at Sadler’s Wells before Christmas and is currently touring the UK, including this week in Cardiff. We were lucky to be invited to the press night performance, and what an absolute delight this production is.
Bourne is known for pushing boundaries and creating fresh takes on the classics (if you’re new to his work, just google his all-male Swan Lake for starters) and this production is no different. Here, instead of the opulent Christmas Eve gathering of the traditional tale, Dr Dross is running a Victorian-style orphanage. His own spoiled children Sugar (Ashley Shaw) and Fritz (Dominic North) torment the young orphans. With each of the orphans given a small gift, Clara (Katrina Lyndon) discovers not the traditional nutcracker but a somewhat ventriloquist’s dummy doll. In keeping with the traditional plot, he transforms into a real person (Harrison Dowzell) and transports her on a magical adventure, thankfully ripping off his creepy mask and revealing himself to be something of a hunk in the process.
A Wizard of Oz-worthy move from black and white orphanage to brightly coloured lands of clouds and sweets, are accompanied by a fusion of ballet, modern and contemporary dance, and illuminated Anthony Ward’s dazzling sets and costumes, all to the backdrop of Tchaikovsky’s famous score.
The Land of Sweets is renamed here as Sweetieland, as various dancers try to get past the Humbug doorman guarding a doorway of bright red lips and pristine white teeth. Sugarplum fairies are replaced with marshmallow girls resplendent in candy pink fluffy costumes, as well as licorice allsorts dancers and a gobstopper biker gang, as Clara almost loses her love interest to Princess Sugar (again, performed by Ashley Shaw). The showstopper scene comes in the form of the dancers appearing on the different tiers of a giant stage-filling cake; the whole thing is wonderfully creative and looks incredible.
The age guidance is 5+ and there were plenty of youngsters around us enjoying the show, which runs just short of two hours, including an interval. More sensitive children may find the lifesize ventriloquist’s dummy a little creepy, but this is short lived as he quickly de-masks. There’s an underlying theme of sexual awakening, but nothing overt. Suitable for all ages, Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is bright, colourful, lively, full of familiar music, and very funny in parts – the dancers’ facial expressions and comic timing add so much humour, we found ourselves laughing out loud on several occasions.
My daughter and I are familiar with The Nutcracker and loved this reimagining of the classic, which still fells edgy and relevant 30 years since its creation. However, even if you have no knowledge of the original, there’s plenty here to entertain and enjoy. Just don’t expect the conventional.
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff until Saturday 26 March. Age guidance age 5+; no under 2s. Tickets are available for all performances, starting at £18 (today and tomorrow) and £22 (Friday and Saturday). See the Wales Millennium Centre website for more information.