With Swan Lake and Nutcracker!, Matthew Bourne offered a fresh and inventive take on Christmas dance shows that have been delighting families for generations. With Edward Scissorhands, which premiered at Sadler's Wells in 2005 and is enjoying its first major revival there this winter, the choreographer has created a classic of his own.
The plot of Edward Scissorhands will be familiar to most from the 1990 Tim Burton film on which the adaptation is based, our hero a benign Frankenstein figure left with scissors for hands when his creator dies before finishing his task. Finding himself effectively orphaned, Edward turns to the suburban neighbourhood on the doorstep of his gothic castle former home (a juxtaposition that Lez Brotherston's stylised design handles beautifully) and ends up being taken in by the kindly Boggs family.
Like Burton's movie, Bourne's production cleverly blends two apparently distinct styles of storytelling, using the neo-gothic fairytale as a position from which to satirise the tribes and types of small-town America. It's all as new to Edward (played by the beautifully expressive Dominic North on press night) as if he had come down to Earth from an alien planet, and there are plenty of wonderful moments when the character's confusion in the face of day-to-day tasks and ordinary interactions shines a light on the absurdities of social convention.
Unlike the experience of watching a musical theatre adaptation of a film, there's barely any suspension of disbelief required, Bourne having structured the story around a series of events that lend themselves naturally to dancing, from teen meet-ups to Christmas balls. Outside of the big numbers, the show feels more like dance theatre than straight dance, the ensemble creating moving tableaux so rich in detail and humour that dialogue is rendered entirely unnecessary. Bourne has distilled Burton's already comic strip-like movie down to its bare essentials and the story is only the stronger for such treatment.
The action having been shifted from the 1980s to the 1950s, designer Lez Brotherston has gone to town with full-skirted prom dresses, fetching swimming costumes and sharp suits. Bourne's choreography is full of wit and invention, incorporating a huge range of dance styles, from classical ballet to swing, and Brotherston's luscious costumes draw the eye from couple to couple, ensuring that every member of this impressive ensemble gets their moment in the spotlight.
It is in the dream sequences, where Edward is united with Kim Boggs (a flawless Ashley Shaw on press night), the object of his unrequited love, that the show is at its most inventive, Bourne able to give his imagination free rein. These scenes are moving, but they're also infused with humour, never more so than during the act one finale, when Edward and Kim dance surrounded by a topiary corps du ballet. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Bourne and Brotherston came up with that idea.
Terry Davies's score, deftly incorporating themes from Danny Elfman's film score, drives the narrative forward, thundering percussion giving way to lyrical jazz flute and eerie synth vocal lines melting into soaring strings. Musical director Brett Morris has a very fine collection of players on his hands, musicians who take on genre after genre with real flair.
There's a warning on the Sadler's Wells website that Edward Scissorhands is not suitable for children under the age of five, and it's easy to understand why. As dark and strange as Burton's original movie, the show is shot through with a deep sense of melancholy: it's impossible to imagine a happy ending for Edward - he's doomed from the very start. But Bourne succeeds in having it both ways: Edward Scissorhands is true to Burton's vision, yet a joyful theatre experience all the same.