The Nutcracker

A perennial festive favourite, The Nutcracker has been presented in many guises and pops up in its latest incarnation as a sort of fusion between a Dickensian fable and technicolour concoction. Matthew Bourne is well known for his acclaimed work with innovative dance company Adventures in Motion Pictures and here he's turned his vivid imagination to reinventing the traditional balletic tale of young Clara and her magical Christmas. The most profound change is the switch between the opulent setting of convention and the bleak orphanage envisaged here, a good idea since it highlights the fantastical quality of Clara's dreamland.

It's Christmas Eve and the orphans are enjoying a brief respite from their cheerless Christmas under the strict regime of Dr Dross and his wife, ably assisted by their spoilt progeny Sugar and Fritz. The orphans eventually escape from this dreary place and find themselves catapulted into the Sweetieland of Clara's imagination. Here everyone has their own edible counterpart, whether liquorice allsort, gobstopper or marshmallow. It's a kaleidoscope of colourful confectionery, beautifully realised by the company.

Clara herself is at the heart of any Nutcracker and Etta Murfitt makes an enchanting heroine, capturing all the innocence and wonder of childhood to perfection. Ewan Wardrop is similarly outstanding as the petulant Fritz and it's a strong production in most respects, a few Sweetieland scenes slightly overlong but partially redressed by the sheer dynamism and enthusiasm of the ensemble. Retaining the flavour of the original whilst reinventing a classic takes an intrepid spirit and generally Bourne's vision is an engaging, delightfully irreverent one that possesses broad appeal.

(Amanda Hodges)

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