Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First seen on stage 30 years ago, Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker returns to theatres this autumn with Bourne’s stunning choreography updated while Anthony Ward’s design has been reimagined.

Act 1 takes place in a bleak Dickensian orphanage on Christmas Eve, a far cry from the traditionally lavish Victorian festivities we usually associate with the classic Tchaikovsky score. The orphans live a miserable life, forced by overbearing bullies Dr and Mrs Dross to dance for their visitors in the hope of receiving meagre gifts, which are then swiped by the Dross children, Fritz and Sugar, who pinch and punch their way to the top.

With monochrome colours aside from a few deflating balloons and homemade paper chains the orphanage feels like a desperately dank and dismal place; that is until the Nutcracker, in this case a ventriloquist dummy gifted to orphan Clara comes magically to life, taking her on an adventure she’ll never forget.

As the dark oppressive atmosphere of the orphanage is left behind a brilliant white frosted lake appears while the orphans, and the Nutcracker come bursting into beautiful life.

This winter-wonderland as a contrast to the dismal orphanage is simply magnificent, the slick choreography almost convinces you that each dancer is performing on ice. The illusion of ice-dancing is a real spectacle, leading you into the interval desperate for more.

Act 2 transports us to the vibrant fantasy world that is Sweetieland. Bold and bright with buckets of cheeky humour we watch as Clara falls deeply in love with the now human, Nutcracker. Spiteful Princess Sugar however soon senses Clara’s happiness and quickly steps in to claim the handsome Nutcracker as her own.

The traditional story has been inventively reworked, keeping you guessing throughout. The storytelling really is sublime, there’s humour, originality and heaps of heart while visually it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. Bourne’s choreography while complex and demanding is delivered with such precision and grace it seems effortless and light. The skill of the company seemingly increasing with every scene, special mention must go to the reworking of the traditional ‘national dances’ each and every one is pure joy.

Cordelia Braithwaite is superb as orphan Clara, she dances with such feeling, drawing you into her journey wholeheartedly. Her commitment to winning the love of the Nutcracker (Harrison Dowzell) is heart-warming; I literally couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

Neil Westmoreland and Stephanie Billers are clearly having great fun as Dr and Mrs Dross who reappear as the magnificent King Sherbert and Queen Candy in Act 2 while Dominic North and Ashley Shaw are deliciously devilish as Fritz and Sugar. Both delight in their roles and are wickedly good at being bad.

Harrison Dowzell is wonderful as the Nutcracker, switching from stiff wooden doll-like movements to fluid ballet choreography with ease. His chemistry with both Braithwaite and Shaw is just perfect.

One thing (amongst many others) that Matthew Bourne does so well is make dance accessible, this joyful production is no exception; the characterisation is incredible while the choreography captivates entirely. This really is a show for all and would be the perfect introduction to dance for any theatregoer.

Matthew Bourne triumphs once again in reimagining the traditional and bringing it bang up to date in the most visually spectacular way. Bright, bold and utterly beautiful.

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker is on at The Lowry until Saturday 4th December tickets available here.

The Red Shoes

THE RED SHOES

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures premiered The Red Shoes in 2016 it stunned audiences and critics alike, winning two Olivier Awards as well as the LA Critics’ Award for both choreography and set and costume design. Returning for 2019 this breathtakingly beautiful piece of theatre proves to be as timeless a classic as ever.

Based on the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film which drew it’s inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Red Shoes this perfectly paced production is rich in indulgent theatricality, sweeping you up on a joyous, heart-wrenching, mesmerising journey from the moment Benard Herrmann’s stunning score with orchestrations from Terry Davies begins.

THE RED SHOES

The Red Shoes tells the powerful story of young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) who swiftly rises to the position of principal dancer after her recent arrival at an established ballet company. Her success brings her to the attention of both composer Julain Craster (Dominic North) and also that of the dance company’s powerful impresario Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper). With the first there is a genuine truth and innocence with the second the lure of higher artistic achievement pulls like a magnet, which ignites a battle between ambition and true love.

Ashley Shaw makes a welcome return to the role of Victoria Page a role she originated in 2016; her performance feels entirely authentic as she weaves her way through a whole spectrum of emotions capturing euphoria and bliss just as convincingly as she portrays terror and furious anger. This authentic emotion paired with her exquisite technique and precise delivery is nothing short of magnificent, embodying the young dancer to perfection. Her performance during The Ballet of The Red Shoes is mesmerising as she is firstly enthralled by then ultimately captured by the shoes, she tells the story movingly and with her whole being.

THE RED SHOES

Adam Cooper’s Boris Lermontov is strong and domineering, seductive in both his power and precision, he stalks the stage bringing an ever-present feeling of temptation and danger while Dominic North’s portrayal of struggling composer Julian Craster is a joy to watch, his solo piece in Act One develops a strong characterisation which he maintains superbly throughout

Bourne’s skilful storytelling and his unbeatable attention to detail matched with a company of dancers at the absolute top of their game ensures that this production enthrals entirely. From playful scenes on the French Riviera to intensely passionate duets every element of choreography is slick, masterful and exciting while every single person on stage gives an impressive and fully developed performance. It is such a visual treat almost cinematic at times that one viewing doesn’t feel like enough, every scene could stand alone and happily satisfy any theatre goer.

THE RED SHOES

Lez Brotherston award-winning set design is immediately striking and wonderfully effective. Allowing the audience access to both onstage and off-stage scenes via a grand revolving sumptuously curtained frame which almost feels like it pirouette’s before your eyes, drawing you into the very heart of the drama, lit beautifully by Paule Constable.

The Red Shoes is a unique piece of theatre in which every element has been crafted with such love and care that the end result is an unquestionably perfect piece of theatrical magic. Bourne’s wonderfully clear storytelling ensures that anyone dipping their toe into the dance world would find the show accessible while seasoned fans of his work will revel in the thrill of having another dazzling piece to enjoy, a masterpiece!

The Red Shoes is on at The Lowry until Saturday 30th November, tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer Kate Goerner

Some shows are so iconic that a single image immediately identifies them, and 23 years after the all-male swans first leapt onto the stage in a flurry of feathers, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has certainly earned this status

Taking the classic score by Tchaikovsky, and reimagining it with a male central pairing and corps, Bourne – who directs as well as choreographs – shook up the traditional concept of classical ballet with this piece when it premiered in 1995.

He admits that not everyone in the dance world welcomed the bold move but it was worth every ruffled feather!

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Now updated for 2018, the production has lost non of its impact, and indeed looks and feels as fresh as ever.

The production opens on the bedroom of a restless prince (Dominic North, whose youthful appearance belies his experience in this role). The forced perspective of Lez Brotherston’s Palace set trapping the young royal figuratively and literally – tight bed covers restricting him just as his royal role does.

The society scenes that follow are a witty joy – we even have a royal corgi – with lots of little winks and nods for the audience. There’s so much to see, this is definitely a show that would lend itself to repeat viewings to take everything in.

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We follow the Prince and his mother the Queen – an arch Katrina Lyndon giving off perfect ‘Princess Margaret in The Crown’ vibes – going about their royal business.

Trying to conform, the Prince hooks up with party girl Carrie Willis (a real scene stealer of a performance) and they go on a date to the theatre – there is some ‘classical’ ballet in the show – of sorts!

Things don’t go well and the Prince finds himself in a deserted moonlit city park – when the swans arrive, lead by Will Bozier (authoritative and reminiscent of the great Adam Cooper)

What follows is some seriously strong dancing in all senses of the word, which culminates in the mesmerising pairing of North and Bozier. Seeing the Prince shake off his doubts and realise at that moment he is free to be himself is a genuinely joyous and touching moment.

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The male company dancers as swans are menacing and magnetic – they even hiss – yet are incongruously vulnerable too. The physicality displayed is done justice by Bourne’s unique choreography – all stamps, jumps and bird-like angles.

Act II brings the sexually-charged Palace Ball scene, with Bozier doubling as the Stranger. Leather trousers replace’s Odette’s black tutu, but the edgy menace remains.

The scene gives the whole company a chance to shine – as things whirl towards the chilling conclusion of the ball, and the poignant final scene.

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The Lowry audience were straight on their feet at the end, and indeed probably would have stayed there for a while longer if the curtain hadn’t been brought down. I’m not sure I can recall a warmer and more enthusiastic response to a dance show.

A very special evening watching a very special production. At The Lowry until Saturday December 1 – one not to be missed. Tickets available here.