Note the exclamation mark. Matthew Bourne’s version of the world’s most popular festive ballet is aimed at non-traditionalists. Out goes the Christmas tree to be replaced by a stick with a star on it, out goes the Dickensian family gathering to be replaced by a Dickensian orphanage of forlorn appearance. And out go the rats and mice.
A scene from Matthew Bourneâ€™s Nutcracker! at Sadler's Wells, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
What remains is a new wave take on the trad tale with Little Orphan Clara (Hannah Vassallo) opening a cupboard to discover her rather horrid ventriloquist’s dummy has grown to full size and become strangely animated. With his help, the kids escape into a winter wonderland of a frozen lake filled with elegant ice skaters and thence a club called The Kingdom of Sweets guarded by a bouncer who resembles an Everton Mint.
Although it is ostensibly Clara’s dream journey, a rites-of-passage story of first love and first betrayal, she spends an awful lot of time in the second half away from the action. But the lurid, vibrant and inventive candies who entertain her as she tries to sneak past the bouncer are the sweet meat of the show.
The Spanish Dance is agreeably performed by a trio of Liquorice Allsorts, the Chinese Dance by a gaggle of pink and white WAG Marshmallows and the Arabian Dance by a Terry-Thomas roue dressed as a Knickerbocker Glory, complete with a cigarette holder.
Choreographed like a cartoon, this is ballet played as farce, complete with double-takes, pratfalls (not all deliberate) and sub-Marx Brothers zaniness. Yet there is no denying the spirited energy of the company who deliver the rocking-horse romping, madly nodding heads and the hopping, skipping, jumping routines with bravura style and showbusiness panache.