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Review: Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! at Theatre Royal Newcastle

I’VE seen several versions of The Nutcracker – generally perfect, pretty, sparkly affairs – but it comes as no surprise that award-winning choreographer Bourne, who takes dance to a new dimension, goes one step further in his take on the classic ballet.

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Photo by Simon Annand
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Photo by Simon Annand

I’VE seen several versions of The Nutcracker – generally perfect, pretty, sparkly affairs – but it comes as no surprise that award-winning choreographer Bourne, who takes dance to a new dimension, goes one step further in his take on the classic ballet.

I’d never seen it before, though it’s one of Bourne’s earliest works and this is its 20th birthday tour, but knowing much of his past record I knew we’d be in for something special.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how fresh this production would still be.

From the off, we’re caught up in an infectious enthusiasm as the story of young Clara (Hannah Vassallo, who starred for two years in the West End as Baby in Dirty Dancing) and her nutcracker doll is performed with plenty of humour, fun and quirky touches as the Nutcracker (Chris Trenfield, who’s played the Swan in Bourne’s acclaimed Swan Lake) comes to life and Clara is transported through a dreamworld of snowflakes and “skating” into Sweetieland.

From the suitably grey world of the orphanage at the start, it’s like the colour control on a TV set is gradually turned up until, with the Act Two arrival in Sweetieland, comes a whopping great explosion of colour.

Costumes so loud they nearly drown out Tchaikovsky’s score are cartoon-colourful confections of cerise, yellows and electric blues.

They and the sets are by Anthony Ward and he brings us Liquorice Allsorts and Marshmallow Girls, polka dot dresses and cupids in striped pyjamas.

I particularly liked Adam Maskell’s seductive Knickerbocker Glory, with his cream-and-cherry-top hair, trying out his sleazy charm on Vassallo, who is a particularly winsome Clara.

It’s all so visually striking – from a giant floating feather to an eye-popping cream cake – that you might imagine the choreography would lose some of our attention but, bold and imaginative, it’s just as riveting. The performances, such as Trenfield’s floppy-armed doll coming to life, are first-class.

 
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