Marius Petipa, The Nutcracker’s original choreographer, apparently considered its libretto “très bon”. Most disagree – the action peters out in the first half, displaced by pure spectacle. But Matthew Bourne’s reworking is as captivated by the story as by the display, and could be pegged as “très bonbon”, as its gloomy Victorian orphanage gives way to a magical realm of candyfloss and liquorice allsorts.
The children, in dismaying grey smocks, form a downtrodden chorus line. Their games are curtailed by the leather-clad Dr Dross and his fearsome wife, who lock up their toys and lob the skeletal Christmas tree out of the window. At midnight, little Clara’s Nutcracker doll comes to life as a terrifying Frankenstein monster (Neil Westmoreland), who lumbers towards the quaking children and cracks open the walls of their prison. The Nutcracker morphs from toy to boy, and Clara (Etta Murfitt) wilts willingly into his heroic chest. But Dross’s spoilt-brat daughter (Anjali Mehra) nips her in the bud, and plucks the hunky cherry for herself.
In the second half, Bourne and his designer, Anthony Ward, think pink in a series of luridly coloured set-pieces that lace childlike sugar with adult spice. Aided by two cupids in stripey jim-jams, Clara meets the Knickerbocker Glory, who mesmerises with the louche insinuations of his hips, the debutante Marshmallows and the blokeish Gobstoppers.
Tchaikovsky’s score, played live, is taken at a fair lick, and the designs are wondrous, getting their own applause. Bourne excels at details of characterisation and spot-on comic timing, as well as the broader ideas of pleasure and transformation – though the choreography is sometimes mere compositional filling, and the pace sags several times.
captures the spirit of Christmas present, and is every bit as camp.
A decade after its first showing, this Nutcracker remains very current. Though its first half taps a Dickensian past, the production as a whole wittily captures the spirit of Christmas present, and it’s every bit as camp.