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Matthew Bourne & New Adventures-'Edward Scissorhands'

by Lindsey Clarke

February 3, 2006 -- Sadler's Wells, London

“Edward Scissorhands” is a tragic fairy tale with a human heart, the story of the unwitting outcast, “an uncommonly gentle man,” and a story ripe for a big-stage Bourne makeover. This is explicitly a stage adaptation of the film (it isn’t billed as a ballet) and despite a few slightly odd tweaks to the story, it is faithful to its origin, particularly with Lez Brotherston's stunning set and the magical movie musical score of Danny Elfman (via Terry Davis) which weaves the Burtonesque gauze around the production.

But despite the hype, Bourne doesn’t push the dimensions of the narrative to its gothic or magical extremes in his choreographic adaptation. New Adventures is a company full of consummate character actors, and they play the inhabitants of Hope Springs sharply and with comic observation, but it’s a “Desperate Housewives” style suburbia of tame types, complete with an oversexed and underdressed Edie Britt, rather than the more sinister, ultra conservative, slightly loopy and closed off small town community of the film. In this version, the religious Evercreeches appear more freakish and marginalised than the graceful, benign Edward. In fact, there is very little sense of community reaction to the arrival of Edward and his monstrous deformity. At a poolside barbecue welcome party, they practically ignore Edward as he hovers on their outskirts, bemusedly twiddling his blades, until they realize he can jazz up their hedges and hairstyles and then there’s plenty of visual fun to be had with his novel artistry.

The scissor hands, a genius of costuming, were underplayed, limited to performing topiary cutting rather than fundamentally choreographed. They only truly came into play in the duet between Edward & Kim at the closing stages of the piece when we caught a glimpse of inspired originality, the scissors wrapping gently around Kim’s body, suddenly as sensitive and safe as loving fingers.

Bourne claims that you can do a close-up on stage, but in the second circle at Sadler’s Wells you need opera glasses to get intimate with Edward’s fear, loneliness and longing. The enduring images of the film are those shots of Johnny Depp, gazing mournfully, looking so tragic, haunted and alone...the evidence of his ultimate humanity in the face of the freakish, shallow suburbanites around him. This choreography isn’t ingenious enough to replace cinematography as the tool for conveying the emotional core of the story.  At times, Bourne opts instead for bolstering up the comedy elements rather than tackling the tragedy at the centre of this fable.

There are big dance numbers to console us: the outdoor party jigging and jiving, the romantic snowy ice duet, the clever dream-sequence topiary ballet and the festive, fizzing swing dance climax. But is Bourne unwittingly recycling shades of past productions? Ensemble character pieces are starting to feel formulaic. If it weren’t for the magnificent score and set and committed performances from the company I’d have felt rather cheated.

So hot on the heels of “Play without Words,” is this “Musical without Songs”? There were certainly clear nods to some musical greats including “West Side Story” and “Grease” for starters. I’m inclined to agree with David Dougill; a few songs would have helped chip the story along. But this is Bourne-style dance theatre and all credit to the cast and crew for producing a show that hundreds of people have seen at Sadlers over Christmas and the New Year, the vast majority of whom have been totally thrilled and thoroughly entertained, and maybe, let’s hope, encouraged to see more dance in the future.

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