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Matthew Bourne's 'Nutcracker!'

A Vote in the 'Frumpy Underdog Campaign'

by Emma Pegler

December 2003 -- Sadler's Wells, London

A thoroughly good evening. It is hard to do humour through the medium of dance. It must be hard since there are so few successful examples. Yet Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker!" truly made me laugh. Of course trying to recreate those moments is very difficult -- you had to be there -- but think of the overly dramatic Spanish dance in the real 'Nutcracker,' and then think of a deliberately unauthentic flamenco dancer flanked by two strutting Freddie Mercury look-alikes with black greased hair and moustaches. A good comic moment.

The first act in the children's home run by a sinister version of the von Trapp family drags somewhat and is quite drab and monotone - everyone is dressed in shades of grey. The von Trapp family permits the orphans to have a few pressies that the rich patrons leave: they've creamed off the best gifts. The little girl who thinks there aren't enough presents to go round takes another look into the basket and finds the Nutcracker. He is confiscated along with all the other presents but her wishful thinking turns him into a prince who bursts manfully out of the locked cupboard. The Nutcracker is quite robotic and stiff at first, and has an Elvis hairdo. He warms up quite nicely and is transformed into a handsome chap with a nice well-toned chest. The orphan falls in love and they escape together.

The cleverness of the monotony of the first Act is revealed in the second Act when the curtain rises to reveal a pink powder-puff Kingdom of the Sweets.  The contrast is delightfully cheery and one's fixed grin of approval doesn't waver for the next 45 minutes. Bourne's adaptations always have a social utility. His "Nutcracker" is a prince who, consistent with social convention, believes that he is better suited to the thin princess in the expensive frock rather than the poor girl in last season's number. He literally dumps our heroine. So, as with all such stories, you do not suspend belief as you would have to in order to enjoy the real "Nutcracker", but rather engage in a "vote for the frumpy underdog" campaign. Thankfully, the thin girl in the expensive dress does not get the man. A lesson for us all.

Considering that this is a pick-up company put together for the season, the performances are well-rehearsed and collegiate. Every dancer treats his or her role with respect, however small, and within the confines of the space and the nature of the production, there is some good dancing.

I highly recommend a viewing. Little people will also like it because there is plenty of colour and the performance is only 45 minutes each-way.

Edited by Jeff.

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