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.