Matthew Bourne's new radical re-imagining of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker"


Feeling tired of the same old holidays, same old gift giving, and same old "Nutcracker?"  Well if you are, Matthew Bourne's new radical re-imagining of Tchaikovsky's classic holiday perennial, the "Nutcracker!," may just be the musical spark you need this Christmas. 

The Company - Photo by Catherine Ashmore

 Matthew Bourne's style of storytelling has certainly never been classical, mixing a cinema influence with live-on-stage dance and theatre.  It makes sense then, that Bourne's adaptation of the much loved ballet "Nutcracker!" is far from classical. 

Richard Winsor, Vicky Evans, Paulo Kadow

"I've always felt ultimately it's a good thing that people can't absolutely categorize my work," says Bourne, "it means it's a bit different and it's individual."  This is certainly the case in Bourne's reworked version, in which adults play the children, banished to a sinister orphanage.  While audiences and fans of the original "Nutcracker!" will recognize Tchaikovsky's timeless score and the same basic storyline, that is about all they will recognize.

The Company - Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Through the journey of protagonist Clara, Bourne incorporates elements from a variety of sources including "Oliver Twist," the Ice Capades, and the fantastical Busby Berkeley musicals.  With Olivier Award-winning designer Anthony Ward's innovative and imaginative sets and costumes, alongside creative new choreography, this is certainly not the same old "Nutcracker!"  Bourne also brings new twists to the traditional characters with enough visual fantasy for the kids as well as enough "grown-up" references for the adults.

Clara and Cupids: (L. to R.) Valentina Formenti, Etta Murfitt (as Clara) Neil Penlington - Photo by Eric Ricmond

The "Nutcracker!" opens with the cast disembarking on stage, and to their animated surprise, discovering the presence of the audience.  With a few giggles and adorable gestures, the cast proceeds to pull down the curtain, and hence the ballet begins, and so does the experience.

The Company - Photo by Catherine Ashmore

With the traditional score which we have all come to know and love, it is fascinating to experience a fun, inventive, and largely farcical interpretation.  While the movements are fast and comedic and the facial acting is very lively, Bourne's "Nutcracker!" is just bizarre enough to elicit both laughs and true emotion.  And for the entire two hour performance, audience members of all ages were experiencing both.

The Company - Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Anthony Ward achieves wonders with the set which, while mostly based in an orphanage, was surreal and visually breathtaking.  Ward's costumes were nothing short of beautiful, demonstrating that often simplicity can be more effective than excess. 

Knickerbocker Glory: Paulo Kadow

Having a cinema influence, Bourne applies a logic to every action which takes place, making sure that Clara and the other actor-dancers always have a reason for what they do.  Hence, the characters you meet in the orphanage in the first half each exhibit traits of the outlandish characters which emerge in the second half.  Bourne's hope was that in his version, the ends would tie up as neatly as a "well-wrapped Christmas package."

Etta Murfitt as Clara Photo by Catherin Ashmore

While Etta Murfitt was wonderful as the protagonist Clara, Michela Meazza stood out in particular as Sugar, the pampered girl; although this might be an unfair opinion based on Meazza's resemblance to Audrey Hepburn.

Clara and Cupids: (L. to R.) Valentina Formenti, Etta Murfitt (as Clara) Neil Penlington - Photo by Eric Ricmond

For any tried and true devotee of the classical "Nutcracker!," such as myself, it is difficult not to sit and watch Matthew Bourne's version and compare it to the original.  Despite the same story line and traditional score, Bourne's "Nutcracker!" truly is something different, and may not be as enjoyable for the classical "Nutcracker!" lover.

However, if you are looking for a break from the same old classic, this is definitely the fresh, creative version you are seeking.  While Bourne's version is fantastic for adults and children of all ages, it seems only right, at least to this traditionalist, that children should see the original "Nutcracker!" for the first time before viewing Bourne's production.

Regardless, Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker!" is an impressive and sensational work of visual art, and a great alternative for any ballet enthusiast, couple, or family looking for an entertaining and fresh night out this holiday season.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the "Nutcracker!" like you've never seen it before.

For more information on tickets or performance dates, visit,, or the calendar section of our magazine. 



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