Proving Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is not just for Christmas, Matthew Bourne’s adaptation is exquisite and fun.
Transposing the Act 1 setting from a sumptuous bourgeoisie drawing room to an austere orphanage, the New Adventure company portrays the hard-done-by children in delightful, quirky detail. That is what we expect from Bourne – characters beautifully described in dance and physical expression.
There is still a party but here the presents and paper chains are only for show and are packed away the moment the governors leave the building.
There is action aplenty – great set pieces and fun background moments with relationships developing and characters explored while the grim Mr and Mrs Dross (tremendous performances, both as the Drosses and the oily King Sherbert and Queen Candy, from Daniel Wright and Madelaine Brennan) creepily wield their power while their obnoxious offspring bully and wreak havoc.
Clara (a touchingly naïve performance by Hannah Vassallo) escapes through romantic fantasy – with the embodiment of a doll (Nutcracker Chris Trenfield) – and, with the plastic hair jettisoned, their first pas de deux sizzles with chemistry.
The traditional snowflake scene is transformed into an ice-skating extravaganza (with twitching skirts delightfully portraying movement) culminating in the theft by Princess Sugar of Clara’s beau.
Anthony Ward’s cracked set is stunningly versatile and explodes with colour and glitz for a fast and furious Act 2 which is true to Ivanov’s charming set pieces but with a twist.
Following Cupid’s quest to steal back her love, Clara enters the wild and wacky world of Sweetieland where tasting good is all important.
Colour and dynamism abounds with Bourne transposing the traditional national dances to performances by sweets: Liquorish Allsorts strut their stuff in flamenco; the Cossack dance is performed by biker Gobstoppers; the dizzy Marshmallows are suitably fluffy and flirty while the wonderfully slinky and lewd Knickerbocker Glory (Adam Maskell) takes on the taste of the Orient.
Bourne gives the Sugar Plum sequences to Sugar and Nutcracker which, in my humble view, is a shame but that is not to detract from the execution but rather comments on the loss of a dramatic climax.
Ashley Shaw and Daniel Collins are on point as man-eater Princess Sugar and the petulant Prince Bon Bon but are particularly comic the Dross brats.
As a ballet, The Nutcracker has its faults but Bourne’s magical touch allows the audience to delight in the moment and ignore structural imperfections. Fun and frothy.