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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker

Nutcracker at Sadler's Wells
Brian Clover takes a second look

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker Matthew Bourne's Nutcracke
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore )
This stunning production, justly praised by my learned colleague, transfers successfully from suburban Bromley to Sadlers Wells, London's traditional, if remodelled, home of ballet and opera. (If you have any interest in design, particularly leisure architecture, you would find the trip worthwhile just to check out the re-interpretation of this much-loved venue.) And talking of re-interpretation there is something for everyone in Matthew Bourne's version of Tchaikovsky's Christmas classic, a near-perfect blend of wit and wisdom, camp and romantic, innocent charm and sly knowing.

Each role is richly characterised and you would need several visits to catch every clever detail in the fast and sometimes furious ensemble work. If you're much faster than I am, then perhaps you could amuse yourself by spotting all the movie references: Frankenstein and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest are two of the stranger allusions in this candy box of delights.

If I have a quibble it would be that there is one dance too many in the finale, but that would be churlish, wouldn't it? Because The Nutcracker is one of the best seasonal treats on the London stage, and would be one of the best at any time of year.

Reviewed by Brian Clover at a performance on 23rd November, 2002
Running time approx 2hrs. with a 15 minute interval.
Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, Islington, EC1R 4TN.
Box Office: 020 7863 8268
Nearest tube stations: Angel Islington
Booking to 25th January 2003

-- Lizzie Loveridge's November Review --
It was the first full-evening story ballet that I had the chance to choreograph and started me on an unexpected journey, creating new and alternative productions of other classic works. It's about growing up and first love and these are themes that we can all relate to.
-- Matthew Bourne on Nutcracker
I had my breath quite taken away by British choreographer Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker which is showing at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley this week prior to opening at Sadler's Wells where it will stay until 25th January 2003. Bourne's reinterpretation of the Tchaikovsky ballet is vibrant, expressive and exquisitely designed. I challenge anyone who doesn't take to ballet to reconsider dance by seeing this exciting and witty choreography. His company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, grabbed the headlines and the awards for his memorable 1995, all male version of Swan Lake, which was briefly featured in the film Billy Elliot. In 2002 Bourne launched New Adventures, the company which will create all his new, independent work. This version of the Nutcracker is a reworking of Bourne's 1992 production, some of the dancers from which are in the present company, though only two are recreating their original roles, as Sugar and Clara.

This Nutcracker is set initially in an imposing Victorian orphanage where the fearsome Dr Dross (Scott Ambler) and his sadistic wife (Emily Piercy/Isabel Mortimer) terrorise their wards, the orphanage children. By contrast, the Dross children, Sugar (Saranne Curtin) and Fritz (Ewan Wardrop) are examples of the worst kind of spoilt, cruel and spiteful children. The Governors visit to inspect but their Christmas presents to the children are snatched away as soon as the visit is over. In a dream, Clara (Etta Murfitt) dreams that the Nutcracker puppet, comes to life, breaks open the walls of the orphanage takes her to a winter wonderland, the Frozen Lake, where they skate on ice. Then to Sweetieland, where everything is made of sugar and all is sweet tasting indulgence. Clara falls for the Nutcracker Prince (Alan Vincent) but he is seduced by the sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy (Saranne Curtin). Clara wakes up back in the orphanage to find her prince is one of the orphanage boys in a fairy tale ending.

From the entrance of the first orphaned girl in her grey serge pinafore, looking apprehensively around, you are aware that as much can be conveyed by movement as by words. So the characterisation is of the very finest, whether it is the well meaning, but incompetent, bespectacled twin Cupids in their blue pyjamas (Valentina Formenti and Neil Penington), or the proud liquorice allsort flamenco dancer (Vicky Evans) or the salacious and vainglorious Knickerbocker (Arthur Pita). You will adore the frothy Marshmallows, a ballet troupe of girls in pink marabou wigs resembling models in a 1950s copy of Vogue magazine.

The original Nutcracker Suite's display of national dancing is replaced by distinctive styles of dance but not necessarily on national lines. As I have already mentioned the liquorice dancers are arrogant like Spanish Flamenco, and the Gobstoppers, lads in hard helmets, punch the air and kick box in a display of bravado. Everyone in Sweetieworld is concerned with how sweet they taste, so there is lots of licking and tongue in cheek wit. Sugar Plum herself is so self absorbed that a large mirror forms her backdrop so that she can watch herself dance.

Anthony Ward has redone his original designs and this Nutcracker is state of the art. It is all exceptional and I could spend several pages describing the sets, costumes, wigs and make-up. The dark monochrome orphanage, with asymmetrical overly tall doors and cupboards, the way they appear to a small child, with cracks in the walls that rend asunder, a real falling beam of old wood, to reveal a Magritte blue and white sky in Clara's dream. The snow falls on the Sonja Henie inspired ice dancers in a magical moment . . . the back drop of the huge open mouth of Sweetieland and its devouring presence. The costume too, is outstanding, Knickerbocker's vinyl wig like a piped ice cream cone with a cherry on the top. The sparkling white skaters with skirts edged in white marabou. The toreador liquorice dancers in shiny black plastic with shiny hair and those bright pink, turquoise and yellow food colouring costumes.

All dance their part with obvious enjoyment. I loved the Harry Enfield lookalike, Fritz Dross (Ewan Wardrop) who becomes the Prince of Sweetieland, whose facial expressions were great fun, as he shows peevishness and spoilt behaviour. Saranne Curtin as Sugar is very accomplished but Etta Murfitt wins hearts with her natural modesty and simplicity.

Add Tchaikovsky's wonderful score and this evening of dance cannot fail to please. The standing ovation at Bromley was longer than any I remember. I am putting dance productions by Matthew Bourne on my must see list.

LINKS to Curtain Up reviews of other productions by Matthew Bourne
Swan Lake
The Car Man

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker
Devised, directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne

With: Scott Ambler, Emily Piercy, Isabel Mortimer, Sranne Curtin, Ewan Wardrop, Etta Murfitt, Alan Vincent, Kerry Biggin, Ross Carpenter, Belinda Lee Chapman, Vicky Evans, Valentina Formenti, Adam Galbraith, Sophia Hurdley, Paulo Kadow, Rachel Lancaster, James Leece, Michela Meezza, Gemma Payne, Neil Penlington, Aaron Sillis, Lee Smikle, Mami Tomatani, Shelby Williams, Simon Wakefield, Philip Willingham, Richard Winsor
Set and Costume Designer: Anthony Ward
Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis
Music Director and Principal Conductor: Brett Morris
Orchestral Arrangements: Rowland Lee
Original Scenario Devisers: Matthew Bourne and Martin Duncan
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 8460 6677
Booking to 16th November 2002 then at Sadler's Wells to January 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th November 2002 performance at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, Kent (Rail Stations: Bromley North or Bromley South)
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