Sir Matthew Bourne
New Adventures, The Lowry, Salford (touring in 2022 to Liverpool Empire and elsewhere)
November 23-December 4, 2021; 1hr 50min
There’s nothing like a traditional-style performance of The Nutcracker to get us in the mood for Christmas, is there? And this, let’s face it, is nothing like a traditional-style performance of The Nutcracker.
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! – returning to The Lowry not only with the exclamation mark in its title but also with Sir Matthew’s name-check attached – is nonetheless a box-office banker (something a lot of venues are depending on, it seems, just now). It was last seen here in 2003, at the tail-end of its original outing, which means it can now be celebrated as “20 years on”. It actually began its life as a project for Opera North back in 1992, so perhaps we can tag it as being almost 30 years on too.
Like all Bourne ballets, the company is slim on numbers (no corps de ballet); instead everyone works very hard in multiple role changes and the music is recorded (though rather plummily and screechily on this occasion).
The tale also has the typical Bourne signatures of a cleverly re-imagined storyline, which nonetheless references the original classical ballet, and loads of irreverence, comedy and charm. And it’s still proper ballet: the dancers of New Adventures, Bourne’s own company, have to be good, and they are.
So what’s the new storyline? Well, ’twas Christmas Day in the orphanage, a very Victorian one ruled over with a rod of iron by Dr Dross and his Matron (Neil Westmoreland, a veteran of Northern Ballet Theatre whom old hands recall with respect and affection; and Stephanie Billers - as seen on Wednesday night). The children are vouchsafed some meagre presents by visiting worthies, but all their poor jollity is whisked away once that’s over. Clara (Cordelia Braithwaite in this cast), however, has determined to find the little boy doll she nearly got to keep and hey presto, he comes to life, the walls crack open, the Christmas tree grows magically and we’re off to a fantasyland of snow and skating on Frozen Pond, and then to Sweetieland, where the divertissement-like national dances of the original are re-Bourne to represent such delights as Liquorice Allsorts, a Knickerbocker Glory, marshmallows and gobstoppers.
There is a moral: love and a liking for sweets are not quite the same thing. But you’ll have to see whether it all ends happily, or with toothache.
Along the way, there’s some lovely dancing – a pas de deux for Clara and her beloved (Harrison Dowzell) in particular: she’s petite and passionate and inhabits her role beautifully – and the couple identified as Cupids, Katrina Lyndon and Keenan Fletcher (though they also have plenty to do before that as orphans and skaters) really shone in this performance. That’s in large part due to their character-drawing ability, and much of the fun in Sir Matthew’s re-write of the story comes from the comic personalities he gives the participants and the fact that the plot-line never gives up. Even in the divertissement, the Flowers Waltz and the Sugar Plum Fairy dance, we’re still wondering whether Clara will fall to sweet temptation or finally find her true love.
In the business of re-writing the scenario, Bourne was actually ahead of his time, it now seems. Scottish Ballet and the Royal Ballet have decided to drop the traditional choreography of the Arabian and Chinese dances this year, on the grounds that dance can be a racist send-up of ethnic stereotypes.
With Matthew Bourne, everything’s a send-up.
Info and tickets here