Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! – The Lowry, Salford

Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Refreshed and reinvigorated for 2021, Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! is a spectacular treat for the eyes and ears

4.5 out of 5 stars

It’s hard to believe Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! is almost 30 years old. The award-winning choreographer has a rare knack for keeping his productions fresh, as his latest touring production aptly demonstrates.

Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 fairy tale THE NUTCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING, Bourne’s NUTCRACKER tells the story of Clara, a young orphan who is given a magical doll on Christmas Eve.

As the clock strikes midnight, the doll comes to life, transporting Clara from the dull and dismal world of Dr Dross’ Victorian orphanage to the shinning, shimmering and scrumptious world of Sweetieland.

Those familiar with Bourne’s previous shows will know to expect a spectacle – and they won’t be disappointed. Influenced by the lavish Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, NUTCRACKER! is a spectacular treat for the eyes and ears.

Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Anthony Ward’s delectable set and costume design is both imposing and impressive, allowing the action to transition smoothly between the dark, monochrome Victorian orphanage to the colourful, vibrant world of Sweetieland. A giant layer cake in the second act is particularly impressive, standing out as a highlight of the show.

Bourne’s choreography is equally dazzling. His trademark wit, pathos, and magical fantasy shine through here, and while this is a contemporary piece, his reverence for the classical tradition is evident, using original themes and motifs to great effect.

But what really seals the ballet’s success is the characterisation. The New Adventures company are excellent here, their magnified body language and physical expressions (of which Bourne is a master), making this piece stand out from the rest.

Cordelia Braithwaite is superbly cast as the wide-eyed Clara, dancing beautifully with Harrison Dowzell – who is equally outstanding – as her false and real love.

Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Dominic North provides some of the best comical moments as Fritz Dross and Prince Bon-Bon, while Ashley Shaw delivers the perfect mix of sweet and sour as Princess Sugar.

Highlights elsewhere include a trio of Liquorice Allsorts who are arrogant like Spanish Flamenco, Gobstopper bikers in dazzling pink, yellow and blue helmets who force their way onto the stage and punch the air in a display of bravado.

Jonathon Luke Baker also stands out as the lounge lizard Knickerbocker Glory, who abandons Clara on the doorstep after a seductive duet.

The real only disappointment is the orchestral score is not performed in-house but is pre-recorded. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is exquisite here, but Tchaikovsky’s score is so beautiful that it deserves to be performed live and it feels like the audience is a little cheated out of this experience.

That said, this is a minor criticism that doesn’t take away from this sumptuous and engaging ballet, which delivers a sprinkling of delicious new surprises for 2021.

Treat yourself to a ticket this Christmas – you won’t regret it!

Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER! runs at The Lowry, Salford until 4 December 2021.