Last Updated on December 16, 2021
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! returns for its 30th anniversary
Nutcracker! follows Clara’s coming of age journey from a sad Christmas Eve at Dr. Dross’ Orphanage, through an ice-skating winter wonderland and into the scrumptious candy kingdom of Sweetieland, influenced by the lavish Hollywood musicals of the 1930’s.
Although I am usually a fan of Tchaikovsky’s version of Nutcracker, the pandemic has inspired me to try Bourne’s version for a change. His company, New Adventures, has been through a challenging year but they are back with 17 new faces out of 33 dancers in this production coming from talent development programmes.
For this 30th anniversary touring production, artistic director Matthew Bourne stayed close to the original 1992 scenario, but the choreography and set design has been substantially reworked. Together with set and costume designer Anthony Ward, Bourne took a fresh look at all aspects of Nutcracker! while still retaining the innocence and charm of the original production.
However, one thing that hasn’t been changed is Tchaikovsky’s glorious score, which sets a magical backdrop to Bourne’s dazzling choreography. Recipient of the 2019 Special Olivier Award, Sir Matthew Bourne and New Adventures have produced some of the most successful dance productions of the last two decades including The Red Shoes, Swan Lake, Cinderella, Edward Scissorhands and most recently his acclaimed reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, and this version of Nutcracker! does not disappoint.
The production begins at Dr. Dross’s Orphanage on Christmas Eve, where Dr. Dross and Matron are preparing for a visit from the governors of the orphanage. Decorations are put up and the orphans don party hats while the visitors hand out gifts. Despite the supposedly festive atmosphere, the costumes and set are in monochrome with different hues of white, black and grey, reflecting the reality of living in an orphanage.
Fritz and Sugar, the children of Dr. Dross and Matron try to steal the toys they want from the orphans. Clara beautifully dances with a male toy soldier called Nutcracker, with certain comical but innocent elements weaved into the sequence. Once the visitors leave, all the Christmas decorations and toys are locked away, including Clara’s toy soldier.
Unable to sleep, Clara sees Sugar entering and encountering the toy soldier alive as a real-life man inside the locked cupboard. As Sugar screams and runs out, the orphans realize that the toy soldier is there to help them. A seamless and magical set change occurs as the room starts to crack open, revealing life beyond the four walls of the orphanage. When Matron, Dr Dross, Fritz and Sugar run in to check on the commotion, the orphans tie them up and run away. This sequence was very fun to watch and the contemporary moves were particularly creative.
Finally, Clara is alone when the soldier appears and a beautiful duet between them ensues as the walls melt away to reveal a sparkling frozen lake. At this point, the set, costumes and lighting change into a magical white and blue palette. As Clara and Nutcracker skate happily with the other orphans, Princess Sugar and Prince Bon-Bon arrive and Act One ends with Princess Sugar taking Nutcracker away, leaving Clara alone.
The second act begins with Clara confused about which way to go. Suddenly, the twins from the orphanage appear as Cupids in a very strong dance sequence and take her to the entrance of Sweetieland to witness Nutcracker, Princess Sugar, Queen Candy and King Sherbet walk inside. The set dramatically pops and changes into a giant mouth, with red lips as the door which somehow gives me an Alice in Wonderland vibe.
Clara is refused entry by the Humbug bouncer as she doesn’t have an invitation. The Dance of the Allsorts Trio and Dance of the Knickerbocker Glory occurs as Clara looks on longingly. Finally, Clara attempts to hide in between the Dance of the Marshmallow Girls as they enter but is rebuffed by the Humbug bouncer. During the Dance of the Gobstoppers, the bouncer is distracted when the Gobstoppers fight and the cupids appear to help Clara sneak inside.
Clara sees Princess Sugar get ready with the Marshmallow Girls and subsequently join the Nutcracker as Queen Candy and King Sherbet reveal a giant wedding cake adorned with the characters Clara met at the entrance. At this point, the set changes again to a dazzling pinkish hue. A fantastical and slightly comical but very lavish dance routine ensues.
With the variety of colours, moves and characters, the wedding sequence makes a very indulgent visual feast. As with all indulgences, we know that they eventually disappear. Suddenly, Clara dances with the Nutcracker alone before he turns back into a toy soldier.
Clara then curls up on the floor in frustration. Upon awakening, she finds the Nutcracker in her bed and they escape out of the orphanage window together, finally getting her happy ending.
The cast constantly changes with two or three dancers allocated for each role, so this is a production that you can easily repeat. I really like the variety in sets, lighting, costume and choreography as the production progresses from reality into dream-like reverie and back again to a real happy ending. If you fancy something special and non-traditional for a Christmas treat this year, look no further.
The magic of Nutcracker! will also be brought to life in the Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly flagship store this festive season via a themed Christmas window conjured up by Nutcracker! designer Anthony Ward. Throughout the Christmas season, £1 of each Knickerbocker Glory purchased at Fortnum & Mason will be donated to further New Adventures’ engagement work with young people and communities.
London, EC1R 4TN
16 December 2021 – 30 January 2022
Tickets prices from £15.00
Running Time approximately 2 hours (including one 20 minute interval)
If you’d rather see a classic ballet, do check our review of the Royal Opera House staging of Nutcracker by The Royal Ballet