Review: New Adventures - Edward Scissorhands - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 4 December 2014 - 11 January 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 11 December 2014

New Adventures - 'Edward Scissorhands'. Ashley Shaw & Dominic North. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 10 December

Take a pinch of Mad Men, a spoonful of Desperate Housewives, add in Sandy from Grease, stir well with a Biff from the Back to the Future series and garnish with a sensual touch of Mrs Robinson from The Graduate – not forgetting to throw in all the sharp-edged cutlery! This melting pot of ‘50s Americana is the recipe for a frothy, wholesome production of Edward Scissorhands that underlines Matthew Bourne’s credentials for being both the best storyteller in dance theatre and the greatest showman since Barnum.

The base for Bourne’s masterpiece is the eponymous film by Tim Burton, with that unforgettable central performance by Johnny Depp and the music of Danny Elfman. The main themes from Elfman’s film score have been re-arranged to fit into Terry Davies’ music for this dance theatre production and – as performed by a small but perfectly-formed bespoke orchestra – it provides a richly varied full-length dance score.

One senses that Bourne and Burton share much more than the first letter of their surname since they both have that indefinable sense of creative genius that somehow turns the unconscious and conscious spheres of fantasy and imagination into glorious and spectacular entertainment.

The production is the massive collaborative effort of many contributors playing their parts with singular and collective success but it is the delivery of the title role that counts for so much more than the sum of all the other parts. And, in this regard, Dominic North gave a superb account of the wide-eyed innocent “boy” manufactured with the love of a grieving father (the original Edward having been killed by a lighting strike while playing outside with shears). North invests the character with an inquisitive love of all that he sees, mimicking the actions of everyone he encounters and gradually increasing the scale of empathy and sentiment until this paragon of goodness is betrayed by the community that grudgingly accepted him in the crescendo of a devastating finale.

Bourne has re-dressed many of the classical ballets in his own inimitable style (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Sylphide/Highland Fling, for example) and his tinkering with the world of ballet continues in the character of Edward who begins the ballet as the male equivalent of Coppélia and ends it as Giselle. Setting aside the technique of dancing the most tender of duets with six giant pairs of scissors as hands and the expert manipulation of said implements at all times, North maintained a charismatic connection with the audience from beginning to end in an outstanding performance that squeezed every possible scintilla of sentiment from this most volatile of tragicomic roles. The best thing that I can say to sum up North’s achievement is that I didn’t once think of Johnny Depp.

The rest of the cast fall into six identically-formed nuclear families (married parents and boy/girl siblings) inhabiting the hillside community of Hope Springs. The Boggs family epitomise a fantasy of all-American goodness when the Mother (Etta Murfitt, who also staged the show for New Adventures) takes the vagrant Edward into their home. The daughter, Kim, played by Ashley Shaw (a dead ringer for Olivia Newton John’s Sandy in Grease with her high school cheerleader outfits, high ponytail and severely-pronounced fringe) provides the love interest for the new and unworldly lodger; but she is the “girl” of the local Biff-type bully, played with appropriate crudity by Tom Clarke.

Amongst the excellent set of supporting players, I loved Saranne Curtin’s desperate housewife (given a red pineapple hairdo by Edwardo’s scissors) who turns to the spin dryer to turn her on when her attempted seduction of our hairdressing hero fails; her tiny, pugnacious, cuckolded husband (Gavin Persand), absolutely hilarious in his ridiculous jogging outfit; and Mari Kamata’s goth girl whose interest in Edward extends only to the desire that he slashes her wrists! As the suave local politician, Gareth Charlton reminded me of the ad agency boss, Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery) in Mad Men. Excellent characterisations were developed throughout the supporting cast of 24 dancers and it’s just a pity that one couldn’t focus on them all simultaneously. It is certainly a show that will offer up new dimensions on subsequent viewings.

The spectacular visual appeal is derived from Lez Brotherston’s glorious designs, oozing with the evocation of a particular sense of a timeless, wholesome mid-American Community where Hope Springs eternal, but something sinister lurks behind the veneer. The emotional end sequence begins with a flawless, swirling love duet between Edward and Kim, richly mirroring the lusciousness of Elfman’s love theme and finishes with the magical moment of a post-curtain call coup de theatre that delivers the warm glow of a childhood fantasy white Christmas. This show is sentimental, deliberately derivative, kitsch in every way, but it is also melting, tingling, uplifting and – above all – simply great entertainment. I loved every second!

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until 11 January 2015
UK tour continues until March. Dates & venues:

Photos: Bettina Strenske

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and the National Dance Awards in the UK.

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