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Bourne left me in Sweetieland at re-opening of New Wimbledon Theatre



Review by David Munro

LAST night, I returned for the first time in nearly two years to the Wimbledon Theatre, or, I should say, the New Wimbledon Theatre.

The Ambassador Theatre Group have taken over this theatrical landmark and, under the tasteful and discreet control of Karin Gartzke, have given the old girl a face lift and refurbishment so that she sparkles as new.

From the moment you leave the station, and see the floodlights highlighting the restored façade, you know that a minor miracle has occurred, and this is confirmed when you enter the freshly decorated and now friendly Foyer.

Gone is the old and somewhat down-at-heel air of the theatre of yesterday.

No longer shabby, she has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, to return to her original glory, with just a soupcon of modernisation such as in the ladies' loos and a new and splendid Upper Circle bar, with its view over Wimbledon.

A perfect example of how modernisation should be carried out, where comfort and cleanliness go hand in hand with the historic preservation of an old, yet worthwhile, building, without destroying its original ambience. Congratulations Karin and thank you!

And now,you will be saying, tell me Mr Munro how did you enjoy the play? To which Mr Munro must answer - very much.

I am no Balletomane and don't know my Pas de Quatre from my entrechat, but I do know what I like, and I liked Mathew Bourne's Nutcracker a lot.

Mathew Bourne, as many of you will already know, has taken the old musty plot of a girl, a Christmas tree and a load of toys and set his ballet in an orphans' home, from which the heroine, Clara - danced last night by Shelby Williams - escapes to Sweetieland, with the help of The Nutcracker - Adam Galbraith - who turns into a prince, whom she loves and loses only to find, as did Dorothy, that her prince and happiness were in the orphanage all the time.

The curtain then falls on her escaping with her orphan lover through the orphanage window.

The scene in the orphanage, while one kept thinking of Annie, Oliver or Love from Judy, was both touching and amusing; the warden, Dr Cross James Leece, his wife, and the orphanage matron, Rachel Luscombe, together with their children, Angeli Metra and Philip Willingham, made a satisfying Dickensian quartet, dominating and tormenting the orphans with gusto, so that when they got their come-uppance in a brilliantly staged revolt a la Miserables by the orphans - ending in a mock execution - the audience applauded.

The warden and his family became the royal family of Sweetieland, emphasising the dream element of the plot, and their choreography, while echoing that of the first act, was less menacing and more amusing.

Sweetieland, which is entered through a huge pink mouth, guarded by a humbug bouncer, who refuses Clara admission, was the setting for a series of divertissements for the company, representing various sweets.

The scene is dominated by a huge wedding cake, reminiscent of the finales of some of MGM's more extravagant musicals, on which the cast are discovered as the climax of a transformation scene, but Mathew Bourne has managed, while portraying the vulgarity inherent in such a scene, to make it charming and amusing.

As I have said, I am no lover of the ballet, having been dragged in my youth to all the classics, which left me with an urgent desire to slaughter all swans and let sleeping princesses lie!

This early force-feeding of tu-tus and tippy toes did, however, instil in me a certain appreciation of what is good in dancing, and so last night I found myself actually enjoying the skills of Mathew Bourne's brilliant company.

This may be, in part, because he has crossed over in many instances from the classical to the Broadway style of dance, and melded the two into a harmonious, or should it be choreographic, whole.

This was most evident in the ensemble routines of the orphans in the first act, and some of the solos in the second; in particular, the gobstoppers, who in their lycra-leather and crash helmets, did a number which could have come straight from West Side Story.

The story is enhanced by the sets and costumes of Anthony Ward. The first scene, grey and white, transforms into an all-white finale, preparing us for the highly-coloured Sweetieland of the second act.

He provides, in addition, several touches of humour, which have to be seen to be enjoyed.

The company were all excellent. Unfortunately, the programme does not differentiate who is appearing on a particular night. That information appears on a board in the Foyer, so I have not been able to single out for praise the many soloists who so delighted me with their artistry and talent.

I have made my position on ballet clear enough by now, but I would emphasise that what Mathew Bourne has created is something which, while couched in balletic form and language, is an entertaining, witty and thoroughly delightful evening, which everyone, from children to adults, can enjoy and only the purists can cavil at.

It is a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the ballet and if later, like me, they sicken at the longeurs of the Sylphides and Sylvias, they will have had one good experience, at least, of what ballet can be and what, I now believe, it should be.

This was a worthy show to grace the re-opening of a gracious theatre and I advise all who have not already seen it to grab your Oyster card and take a trip to Wimbledon and enchantment. You won't be sorry!

Mathew Bourne's Nutcracker a Ballet; Music by Tchaikovsky; Choreography and direction by Mathew Bourne. Designer, Anthony Ward; Lighting, Howard Harrison; Sound, Paul Groothuis.
Mathew Bourne Company: Darren Fawthrop; James Leece; Anabelle Dalling; Rachel Lancaster; Anjali Mehra; Noi Tolmer; Mikah Smillie; Neil Pennington; Philip Willingham; Lee Smikle; Etta Murfitt; Shelby Williams; Karry Biggin; Neil Westmoreland; Adam Galbraith; Sophia Hurdley; Samuel Plant; Marni Tomatani; Ashley Bain; Jo Colasanti; Ashley Day; Vicky Evans; Paulo Kadow; Ross Carpenter; Hannah Vassallo; Chihiro Yako; Glenn Graham; Stuart Rogers.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG. Tues 10th - Sat 14th February 2004 eves 7.30pm
Sat mat. 2.30pm.
Box Office 0870 060 6646

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