Review: Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! Nottingham Theatre Royal

Having last been enthralled by New Adventures darker dance works Romeo and Juliet and The Midnight Bell we find ourselves tonight in Sweetieland ie: Nutcracker!, the 30th Anniversary, newly designed and re-imagined production by Matthew Bourne and his iconic, ground-breaking British dance-theatre company.

Nutcracker! comes fully accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s glorious score and Anthony Ward’s newly-refreshed delectable sets and eatable costumes. All these treats combined with Bourne’s dazzling choreography create a fresh and charmingly irreverent interpretation of the classic.  For those who may have seen their previous version, they should expect a sprinkling of delicious new surprises in this reinvented production. It will send you home with a spring in your step and joy in your hearts.

NUTCRACKER by Bourne. Credit: Johan Persson/

For those new to the piece, like this reviewer, it’s a Nutcracker! for all seasons with family-sized helpings of Bourne’s trademark wit, pathos and magical fantasy. The story is simple enough for anyone to follow. Nutcracker! follows Clara’s bittersweet journey from a darkly comic Christmas Eve at Dr. Dross’ Orphanage, through a shimmering, ice-skating winter wonderland to the scrumptious candy kingdom of Sweetieland, influenced by the lavish Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. What’s not to like?

I humbly leave it to Matthew Bourne (in a recent interview) to explain about his creative ideas around his different version of Nutcracker! “I’m convinced that the main reason that The Nutcracker has retained its perennial appeal is because of Tchaikovsky’s incredible score. Act One contains some of his most engaging and, at times, profound, story-telling music and Act Two has one glorious melody after another. After 130 years it retains its mystery, magic, and the power to transport us to another world. Some Nutcrackers can be a little tricky to understand but our version tells a simple story very clearly; it’s a wish fulfilment story, a story with a heroine (Clara) who has a lot to overcome and who eventually wins through. It’s about growing up and first love and these are things everyone can relate to.  I think this is why it remains so popular with all members of the family.

Most Nutcrackers are completely different to ours and sometimes difficult to follow but we wanted to create a story that had its own logic whilst delivering all the iconic Nutcracker highlights. Our first thought was to reject the large, overpopulated, present-filled family Christmas party, which normally opens the classical version, feeling that this rather privileged atmosphere may already represent something of a fantasy to many of our audience! Picking up on the tradition of including very young dancers in most Nutcracker productions, we decided to set the production in a Dickensian orphanage. All the young inmates are played by adult dancers, celebrating a rather modest Christmas Eve party, overseen by the fearsome Dr and Mrs Dross and their terribly spoilt children, Fritz and Sugar.  This darker/monochrome world in the Act One orphanage gave us an exhilarating release into the silvery white expanse of the Frozen Lake at the end of Act One and, even more so, into the technicolour explosion that is Sweetieland in Act Two.”

What we really admire about this piece and many other New Adventures productions are the facial and body expressions of all the principles and ensemble. They are clear to read and in some cases pricelessly witty. In the audience tonight one small child bursts into a fit of giggles at the humorous antics on stage. It is an unexpected addition to a very pleasant evening at Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Tonight, this fabulous dance work stars the magnificent Nottingham born Harrison Dowzell  dancing the title role. Cordelia Braithwaite is the sweet orphan Clara who is delightfully danced with a lightness of touch and great vulnerability.  Ashley Shaw is pure spoilt child as Princess Sugar and her brother, Fritz/Prince Bon Bon, is the equally spoilt and very childish dance creation danced with smug vigour by Dominic North. Playing the formidable Dr Dross we have Reece Causton with his wife, Mrs Dross performed by Stephanie Billers. Both the mean Dross couple carry a haughty demeanour with empty hearts and become quite silly when transported into the Sweetieland fantasy world to be King Sherbert and Queen Candy.

The whole of Nutcracker! is a heady confection with dancing cupids, a humbug bouncer, a smoking knickerbocker glory, sexy marshmallow girls, the energetic gobstoppers and a flamenco influenced Allsorts Trio. The entire Nutcracker! ensemble strip the predictable wrapping off any Nutcracker ballet you have seen before and offer up a big, rather spectacular dancing tin of moreish sweeties that you’ll want to eat again and again. It is dance perfection and for anybody watching of a certain age they may not get the particular piece of Tchaikovsky music, that they may refer to as ‘Cadbury’s Fruit and Nutcase’, out of their heads for days. In this world of uncertainties, that’s not such a bad thing to have in one’s mind.

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is a cracking dance theatre hit and you’d be nuts not to go see it.

Nutcracker! runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal 12-16 April 2022 as part of a UK tour.

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