Twenty years on from its first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, and ten years after a substantial reworking for his New Adventures dance company, choreographer Matthew Bourne is enjoying as much success as ever with his radical version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker! – complete with that all-important exclamation mark.

With stunning designs and costumes by long-term collaborator Anthony Ward, this radical retelling of the charming Christmas tale about a young girl, Clara, and her dream of the wooden toy that comes to life is vibrant, colourful and teeming with theatrical ideas.

Bourne and his original director, Martin Duncan, chose to move the opening scenes from the conventional setting of a family festive party to the much darker, almost Dickensian scenario of an orphanage, a notion which adds much to the contrast with Act Two’s extravagant Sweetieland.

It also allows for a great deal of comedy as the dreamland Clara is refused entry to Sweetieland by a hilarious mint humbug bouncer, and is forced to watch as a procession of extraordinary characters passes by – including Marshmallow Girls prancing to the strains of the Sugarplum Fairy, and a trio of bizarre biker-clad Gobstopper boys.

It’s all highly inventive and entertaining, and Bourne’s choreography is relentless in its imagination and execution, all performed by a large and able cast of talented dancers.

The production is let down, unfortunately, by the absence of a live orchestra. Presumably the excessive costs got in the way, but given the director’s own admission that Tchaikovsky’s “incredible” score is at the heart of the Nutcracker’s appeal, it is a crying shame to deny theatregoers – especially young, possibly first-timers – the matchless joy of real music, rather than an over-loud, amplified recording.

That quibble aside, this Nutcracker is a feast for the eyes, if not so much the ears, and an evening of spectacle and delight.

MICHAEL DAVIES

www.stagereviews.co.uk