It’s not so easy to high-five with knives, but the scything gestures and cutting shapes of hand movements in Matthew Bourne’s glorious fairytale suggest a communal dance relationship between the hand-sheared boy and the suburban neighbourhood of regular 1950s citizenry.

Bourne’s 2005 show – returning to the Wells for a Christmas season after a long tour – is both loyal and imaginatively responsive to Tim Burton’s 1990 movie. The story is a sort of flashback, but Peg Boggs – Dianne Wiest in the film – is not an Avon lady, and the inventor is interrupted by Halloween hooligans in the Gothic mansion, expiring of shock.

Whereas Burton creates a stunning pastel-coloured “Pleasantville” on the doorstep of the mansion, Bourne and designer Lez Brotherston let rip in a harsher, more physical environment of sports days, political rallies and seasonal celebrations. At the Christmas ball, the stage pulsates with an ensemble swing band routine. After the fatal showdown with Kim Boggs’ roughhouse boyfriend Jim, Edward evaporates like a Peter Pan silhouette.

Edward is not the boy who never grew up, but the boy who was never finished, and he represents the “different” in society. When he dances “complete” – look, no knives! – he does so in Kim’s fantasy, a lovely waltz number with animal topiary and Swan Lake connotations. In a cruel world of conformity, theirs is a doomed romance.

The wonderful film music of Danny Elfman is wisely retained for that sequence, and for all the great emotional moments. Bourne’s regular composer Terry Davies adds in a brilliant 1950s pastiche score of bebop, “Baby Face”-style pop music, sambas, congas and vigorous jive. In his hairdressing salon, Edward becomes a demon barber with sexual power over Joyce Monroe, the salacious neighbour with a ginger mop.

Dominic North danced the opening night with an insouciant, wistful and beguiling charm. Instead of Johnny Depp’s black leathers and blank helplessness, he exuded a more tragic innocence in brown leathers, sticky flyaway hairstyle and lithe athleticism; at one point he even taps his long bunch of knives on the floor with an impatient finger imitation.

The New Adventures company is on top form, with razor sharp contributions from Kerry Biggin as Kim, Etta Murfitt as her mother, Nina Goldman as Joyce and Adam Galbraith as jowly Jim. With Howard Harrison’s magical lighting, tempestuous organ rumbles, a celestial ice sculpture and an audience smothered in snow flakes at the end, what more do you want? Crackers, sweeties and a going home present?

- Michael Coveney


NOTE: The following THREE STAR review dates from November 2005, when this production premiered at Sadler\'s Wells.

It was exactly ten years ago that Matthew Bourne premiered his contemporary dance version of Swan Lake at the old Sadler’s Wells, and a new chapter in British dance was written as the production went global to win him Tony Awards for Best Director and Best Choreographer on Broadway amidst a slew of international awards. That’s proved a tough act to follow; but with shows like Cinderella, The Car Man and Nutcracker!, he has re-invigorated classical properties of the ballet and operatic repertoire. Meanwhile, his theatrical choreography for classic musicals like Oliver!, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and the film-to-stage reinvention of Mary Poppins have shown him equally adept at showbiz pizzazz.

Now Bourne takes another piece of popular culture, the iconic 1990 Tim Burton film Edward Scossorhands, and spreads a little Bourne magic dust (possibly a little bit too thinly) to create a new narrative ballet that brings the eponymous creation to a literally cutting-edge of dancing life. Originally mooted as an idea for a musical, there were times, I confess, that I regretted that it hadn’t been developed as one: not just that it could do with more of a full-blooded score than the arrangements that Terry Davies supplies of Danny Elfman’s movie themes that we hear here, but also that a musical would be able to provide more characterisation and plot than the broad brushstrokes and large gestures that are necessarily applied to convey so much information in dance.

Having said that, there is nevertheless much to delight (and also occasionally to disturb) here. While Frank ‘N’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Show famously promised, “In just seven days I can make you a man” to his own fetishistic ends, Edward Scissorhands is similarly the product of the fevered work of an inventor, who (in Lez Brotherston’s imaginative design response) brings him to life out of the upholstery of an old leather sofa. Failing to complete his work, Edward is left with glistening scissor blades for fingers; and in the small-town America of picket-fenced homes that he finds him in, he becomes an object of fascination, then repulsion.

A story of an outsider alternatively being embraced, then rejected, it could be a metaphor of our times; but Bourne is (understandably perhaps) more keen to find dance breaks in it than to delve deeper. Though the title character is somewhat inhibited, to say the least, by the hands he is burdened by to do much dancing in the first act, he sheds them for a dream ballet that closes it, which is a bit of a cheat. But Sam Archer, who shares the role with Richard Winsor, makes a bold stab, so to speak, at animating his emotion as well as his physical limitations.

But there’s also wit and charm in abundance in its portraits of the six families drawn from the inhabitants of the town of Hope Springs, and Bourne – perhaps newly influenced by his collaboration with Steven Mear on Mary Poppins – certainly knows how to sell a number. The result is a big, colourful show of heart and art, even if some of the darker resonances of the story remain unexplored.

- Mark Shenton