Review: Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 6 Dec - 22 Jan 2012
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Monday 19 December 2011

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! Photo: Bill Cooper

Reviewed: 14 December

A Christmas classic, The Nutcracker , scored by Tchaikovsky and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, was first performed in Russia in 1892, with numerous versions and adaptations enchanting audiences across the globe ever since. Matthew Bourne’s version was originally created to be performed as part of the centenary celebrations in 1992, but has gone on to be one of the most successful productions of the piece ever performed in the UK. This Christmas season, the colourful production has returned to Sadler’s Wells in advance of its 20th birthday.

The original story is set on Christmas Eve, an element that Bourne’s version retains, along with the infamous Tchaikovsky score. But Bourne has employed a lot of artistic licence in updating the piece and has created a fun and vibrant show that feels contemporary and is engaging throughout. Where the original story takes place in a large family home and opens during an opulent Christmas Eve party, centering on a giant, sparkling Christmas tree, Bourne’s version is set in monochrome, ramshackle Dr Dross’ Ophanage for Waifs and Strays, with the central character, Clara, just one orphan among many, rather than adored daughter of two loving parents. The orphans are a motley crew, whose individual personalities shine through from the opening moments, where they all stumble onto the stage blinking, stunned to find a packed auditorium looking down on them. All strong actors, the orphans quickly form a relationship with the audience, using exaggerated facial expressions and body language to prompt giggles and exclamations.

Hannah Vassallo is a warm and likeable Clara, whose soft, balletic style, together with a wide-eyed curiosity makes her a believable child. Her adventures with a nutcracker doll that comes to life and then turns into a hot young man, played by Chris Trenfield, take her to some vibrant places: a frozen lake, where skaters, dressed in white, float and flutter as snow softly falls, the road to Sweetieland, where two Cupids, dressed in stripy pyjamas “magic” a new, blue polka dot dress for her from the sky and finally, Sweetieland itself, where the acid bright wedding scene is a world away from the grey orphanage. A whole cast of memorable characters in this neon world include the Humbug Bouncer (Dominic North), a giant striped sweet with small arms and legs who struggles to keep Clara out of the party and to keep himself upright, the Marshmallow Girls, who fizz in candy pink ostrich feather hats and the slightly creepy Knickerbocker Glory (Adam Maskell) whose advances towards Clara verge on sexual harassment!

Bourne’s Nutcracker! is a very stylish experience, with bold, impressive sets, imaginative costumes and a modern choreography. But with some dark elements, it has substance too. The morphing of the Nutcracker from stumbling, plastic headed thing, into proud, striding Adonis, symbolises Clara’s wish to transform her life. In reality, she is parentless and endures a lack of love; in her dreams, she has the love of a handsome man. When she cowers at seeing her love with another woman, the scene seems to unfold large in front of her like a looming wave. The New Adventures dancers are talented and engaging performers, their expressive and comedic style extracting laughs throughout. This playfulness creates an intimate relationship with the audience that is rare to see in ballet, and thoroughly seductive. I’d say if you see one Nutcracker this season, make it this one!

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until 22 January 2012 (casts vary)

Other reviews:

“…there is no better way to begin the festivities than by catching Peter Wright’s fabulous production at Covent Garden.”
Graham Watts’ review of Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker
“..the brilliance of Peter Farmer’s set design, the superb rendition of Tchaikovsky’s magical score – above all else – the exquisite dancing of Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov.”
Graham Watts’ review of English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker

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