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Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker

21 February 08 words: Tina Clough
A performance that oozed character, colour and a huge amount of charisma.

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at the Theatre Royal

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker is anything but what I had expected from the ballet; it was definitely not highbrow, restricting or hard to follow, but instead a performance that oozed character, colour and a huge injection of charisma. Set in a Victorian orphanage, Matthew Bourne has not only taken it upon himself to develop a sheer masterpiece but he has also made it extremely accessible to people of all ages.

The traditional beginning of the Nutcracker has been switched from the original plush setting to a bleak orphanage. The children are goofy, buck toothed and very gender aware as the girls have a tendency to lift their skirts and the boys are partial to a bit of Mickey-taking and competition. The audience is shown a very distressing take on festive-cheer (or should I say lack of it) at the hands of the Matron and her husband, Dr Doss.  The orphans are given a lack-lustre Christmas tree, a few decorations and their only presents are given to keep up appearances with the home’s inspectors. Despite this the whole audience were in stitches! The children’s mannerisms were so finely tuned it makes you wonder how long the performance must have taken to rehearse.

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker at the Theatre RoyalAct 1 also provided the funniest keep-fit routine I have seen since the days of Mr Motivator, with the children being made to lift weights with their scrawny arms while the Matron's spoilt children, Sugar and Fritz, sat on their backsides eating chocolate, which by that stage was smeared all over their faces. Clara, an orphan at the home, dreams of escaping the orphanage and as a result slips into a typical childhood dream where the Nutcracker, a tiny doll from the first act, comes to life to rescue her from a very dismal fate. The only difference is that this time he is a fully-grown man complete with white trousers and braces - definitely one for the ladies! From here onwards the audience is presented with a spectacle to say the least, from snow falling from the rafters to the most beautiful duets between the Nutcracker, played by Alan Vincent, and Clara, played by Hannah Vassallo. The dances were full of emotion and this was intensified even further by Tchaikovsky’s famous score.

One lady summed up the first half in one word – “Magnificent”  – and I entirely agree. The second half of the show provides a sickly-sweet contrast as Clara travels into Sweetie Land, which soon leaves a sour after-taste as her beloved Nutcracker has decided to tie the knot with the spoilt Sugar. The scene is pinker than pink and comes complete with dancing gobstoppers, liquorice allsorts (which look uncannily like Freddy Mercury, with greased back hair and boleros) and a group of marshmallow girls, whose costumes I would have liked to have stolen, given half the chance! If this wasn’t enough to grab your attention, Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker just kept on delivering, with a giant wedding cake layered with dancers, which was very reminiscent of the beauty school drop out scene in Grease.

All in all it was without a doubt the best performance I have seen at the Theatre Royal in a very long time. It had something for everyone even a touch of adult humour (with the licking dance being the main offender!) and it is certainly worth a look.

The Nutcracker plays at The Theatre Royal from Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd February 2008

Read our interview with lead dancer Adam Galbraith

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