|Last year, director and choreographer extraordinaire Matthew Bourne brought us a revolutionary revamp of the timeless ballet Swan Lake. The piece, which featured male swans bounding around the stage in a bold display of athletic machismo, breathed new life into the classic and was lauded by critics as a must-see, once-in-a-lifetime event. Now, Bourneis back with a new take on Tim Burton’s twisted cult cinematic fairytale Edward Scissorhands.It’s a lovingly crafted adaptation on the poignant themes of difference, loneliness and isolation which are embodied with such tender and touching nuance by Edward (Dominic North, on the night I attended), the boy who is ‘born’ with scissors for hands. Like Pinocchio or Frankenstein before him Edward is the creation of an eccentric father figure who yearns for a ‘real’ boy. In Bourne’s version Edward stumbles into 1950s suburbia and is found and adopted by the Boggs family, who seek to offer him a fresh start, complete with a new preppy-style wardrobe to go with the stitched up values that he must learn to observe. But Edward thrives nonetheless and brings his own brand of magic to the place in the form of fantastical topiary creations and cutting-edge hairstyles all rendered magnificently through the use of his unique snippy appendages.Bourne’s talent for harnessing the subtlety in minuscule gestures provides this piece with a powerful visual narrative. Bereft of dialogue we must rely on movement, costuming (Lez Brotherston) and facial expressions alone to learn the attitudes of the characters and follow the story, and this is achieved to great effect here. From the greasers, to the 1950s housewives and cheerleaders each dancer captures the stereotypes with a vivid fluidity which is energising to watch.The set design (Lez Brotherston) is sumptuous and Burtonesque. There’s an effective use of screens that add a dreamlike dimension to the space, and the large whimsical topiary creations inspire pure and unadulterated childlike wonder.
Fans of the original flick’s memorable score by Danny Elfman will be enchanted by Terry Davies new arrangements on the familiar themes. And Paul Groothuis’ sound design – when coupled with the poetic flourishes of Edward’s scissor-like hands – create surprising moments of emotional connection for an audience who seemed to hang on the edge of their seats like kids entranced at a school holiday pantomime.
This is a slick, well-executed production, but the first act is by far the strongest. This is largely because the story elements are well thought through here. As we enter the second act it seems that large dancing set pieces take predominance over the narrative, and the romance between Edward (Dominic North) and Kim (Noi Tolmer) seems to come more as an after thought, rather than the unifying principle around which the action takes place. But still, there is plenty for Tim Burton diehards to enjoy, and lovers of contemporary dance will delight in the scope of genres that are incorporated into this fun flight of fancy.
This article first appeared in Australian Stage