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Muddy meets: Sir Matthew Bourne

The newly reimagined production of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! has its last hurrah in Woking from next Tues 19 April. Muddy caught up with the king of dance theatre himself to crack some nuts and chat about one of his best known productions.

All images by Johan Persson

After a 10 year break from touring, and on the brink of its 30th birthday, Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! returned to London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre last Christmas, then took off on a 14-date whistlestop tour of the UK and Ireland culminating in the final shows at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

The show is filled with Bourne’s trademark wit, pathos and magic, following Clara’s bittersweet journey from a darkly comic Christmas Eve at Dr Dross’s Orphanage through a shimmering, ice-skating winter wonderland to the scrumptious candy kingdom of Sweetieland.

It’s been lauded in the national press – hailed ‘a witty, wonderful, rip-roaring spectacular’ by The Daily Telegraph, ‘ as lip-smackingly delicious,’ according The Evening Standard, and ‘refreshingly insane’ by The Sunday Express.

Matthew Bourne – or more accurately Sir Matthew – and his New Adventures company have produced some of the most successful dance productions of the past 20 years, including The Red Shoes, Swan Lake and most recently his acclaimed reimagining of Romeo and Juliet.

Here’s what he has to say about Nutcracker!

Sir Matthew, your Nutcracker! turns 30 this year, but Tchaikovsky’s ballet of The Nutcracker is almost 130 years old. It’s been around, hasn’t it? What makes it such a favourite?

I’m convinced that the main reason that The Nutcracker has retained its perennial appeal is because of Tchaikovsky’s incredible score. Act One contains some of his most engaging and, at times, profound, story-telling music and Act Two has one glorious melody after another. After 130 years it retains its mystery, magic, and the power to transport us to another world.

Oh you modest thing. I feel like you can possibly claim a little bit of credit with your own re-telling.

Some Nutcrackers can be a little tricky to understand but our version tells a simple story very clearly; it’s a wish fulfilment story, a story with a heroine (Clara) who has a lot to overcome and who eventually wins through. It’s about growing up and first love and these are things everyone can relate to.  I think this is why it remains so popular with all members of the family. 

New Adventures’ Nutcracker! has now been performed for nearly 30 years – I’m just going go right ahead and say it – it’s a classic in its own right. So, take us back to 1992 – what inspired you to create this version beginning in a Dickensian Orphanage? 

For the original 1992 production, which was a double-bill with the Tchaikovsky opera Yolande, the designer, Anthony Ward and I, worked with the director Martin Duncan, who collaborated with us on the concept for the show.  

We always wanted to find something that, in certain key ways, reflected the piece that people knew. Most Nutcrackers are completely different to ours and sometimes difficult to follow but we wanted to create a story that had its own logic whilst delivering all the iconic Nutcracker highlights. Our first thought was to reject the large, present-filled family Christmas party, which normally opens the classical version.

Picking up on the tradition of including very young dancers in most Nutcracker productions, we decided to set the production in a Dickensian orphanage. All the young inmates are played by adult dancers, celebrating a rather modest Christmas Eve party, overseen by the fearsome Dr and Mrs Dross and their terribly spoilt children, Fritz and Sugar. This darker/monochrome world in the Act One orphanage gave us an exhilarating release into the silvery white expanse of the Frozen Lake at the end of Act One and, even more so, into the technicolour explosion that is Sweetieland in Act Two. 

The famous ‘Snowflakes’ sequence is transformed into a glorious ice-skating extravaganza in your staging. What a joy that must have been to create…

There are certain things that every production of Nutcracker should deliver:  the magical growing Christmas Tree; the transformation of the Nutcracker into a handsome young man; and the falling of the snow during the ‘snowflakes’ sequence. Everyone feels a sense of childlike pleasure when snow begins to fall, and I wanted to try and capture that sense of pure joy seen through the eyes of the orphan children.

So, rather than depict the snowflakes themselves, as in the classical version, I have our orphans, who have escaped from the Orphanage, skating across a frozen pond as an uplifting expression of their newfound freedom.

This Nutcracker!, though has been reimagined from the production that was last seen almost 10 years ago. What’s different?

This is very much a new production. It stays close to the 1992 scenario written by Martin Duncan and myself, however, the show has been substantially re-choreographed and Anthony Ward has re-thought his memorable and iconic designs to spectacular effect. In fact, our aim was to take a fresh look at every aspect of the show whilst retaining the innocence and charm of the original production. One thing that has not been re-thought and updated is the much-loved score. Thirty years on I find Tchaikovsky’s music more and more profound; its magic turns us all into kids again.

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from Tues 19 – Sat 23 April. Book your tickets here.

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