Matthew Bourne

When you think of revolutionising a 130-year-old Christmas classic, dancers licking each other’s arms, vigorous bum shaking, and a ginormous cake are probably not what spring to mind. Despite this, Matthew Bourne’s ‘Nutcracker!’ delivers the festive excitement we all long for.

In preparation for celebrating its 30th anniversary year, ‘Nutcracker!’ is embarking on two weeks of delicious performances at The Lowry in Salford Quays. Artistic Director Matthew Bourne of New Adventures is firmly renowned as one of the UK’s most successful and popular choreographers with a record-breaking nine Olivier awards under his belt.

Matthew Bourne originally created ‘Nutcracker!’ in a way that rejects the flamboyant, privileged ideal of Christmas and fronts it with a bleak Christmas Eve party at the Dickensian-themed Dross’ Orphanage. From the drastically sparce tree to the pitiful handful of paper chains thrown around the stage, the tone was set in an instant. As the children are presented with presents from the orphanage governors, Clara is left with the seemingly charming nutcracker.

The perfectly over the top expressions carefully crafted for each individual dancer made it an instantly immersive and comedic experience. It follows orphan Clara on a journey of finding herself, growing up, and falling head over heels in love for the first time. The beauty of this performance is that you don’t have to be a ballet lover to be able to follow the story. It delivers the traditional storyline but with a much more simplistic and lip-smacking twist.

The bleak, monotone setting of the orphanage in act one contrasts drastically with the explosion of colour that is Sweetieland in act two, a place in which people are judged not by how they look, but by how they taste. Everything about this second act is an assault on the senses but in the best possible way. It begins with an appearance from the cupids, who were previously Clara’s best friends from the orphanage, as they help her track down her true love before his wedding to the Matron’s spoilt daughter, Sugar. Guarding the doors to the wedding was the boxy Humbug Bouncer, constantly humouring the audience with his no-nonsense stance.

The Marshmallow Girls (Photo by Simon Annand)

Each costume in act two is more outrageous than the last, but the Marshmallow Girls were a particular stand out. The pastel pink wigs paired with the bouncy pompom tutus just screamed party. They strutted around the stage with an immeasurable sass, one that Knickerbocker Glory fought hard to compete with. These dances, along with that of the Allsorts Trio, came in replacement of the ‘national dances’ found in the traditional Nutcracker which have been said to promote harmful cultural stereotypes.

Despite the revamp, Tchaikovsky’s music remained untouched. Act two brings hit after hit and instantly ignites that festive feeling. With it brings a blast of nostalgia as you’re transported back to childhood and immersed in that youthful innocence.

The Nutcracker will forever be a festive favourite, and Matthew Bourne is quickly becoming a classic in its own right. It puts a twist on a traditional story while retaining the magic. The packed-out theatre, raucous rounds of applause, and the beaming smiles in the audience spoke volumes.

‘Nutcracker!’ is at The Lowry until Saturday 4 December. Get tickets here.

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