When Matthew Bourne’s productions roll into town it is, like Anchorman Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal. Spellbinding, imaginative new takes on well-known pieces are his stock in trade, and his sense of wonder makes every show a thing of real excitement and beauty.
This year, we get Nutcracker!, entry level fairy-story ballet gone a bit crackers on its own sugar rush. It is marvellous. When Tchaikovsky’s work is given the Bourne treatment, liberties are taken, but with such confidence and flair it is impossible not to fall in love.
It begins by changing the setting from a lavish family Christmas to an orphanage of children clad in grey smocks and boots. Our heroine Clara is reduced to orphan status, terrorised by the bratty rich children of the owners, who tear the arms off the doll she is given as a present. In Act II, which bursts into colour as the cast are morphed into bizarro-world candy characters, Clara must battle it out with her nemesis Princess Sugar, who also desires the (rather hunky) Nutcracker’s affections.
Bourne’s Land of Sweets is the kind of place the Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding might feel at home, a glittery psychedelia that is as unsettling as welcoming. As the magical land reveals a series of glorious setpieces, this is when you see the director’s imagination in its most thrilling kind of overdrive.
This is to say nothing of the breath-taking choreography, performed with love and vigour by the impressive cast. As with last year’s Cinderella, the large company is always on the move; each orphan displays strong characteristics, so much so it is hard to know where to look. Rather than fading into the background, there are a wide variety of little actions always taking place.
It’s beautiful, it’s a bit crazy, and it’s a colourful, entertaining spectacle like no other. Truly scrumptious.
Nutcracker! is on at the Empire until Saturday, January 28.