nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 18, 2007
Matthew Bourne's new dance-theater adaptation of Edward Scissorhands is gorgeous: a triumph, I think, in just about every way.
Now you should know up front that I have never seen the Tim Burton film on which this show is based, so I come to it purely on its own terms—a thoroughly imaginative contemporary fairy tale, theatricalized with music and movement. There isn't a single word of dialogue in Edward Scissorhands, and Bourne's storytelling is so precise and deft that we never miss it. (There also isn't, thankfully, a synopsis in the program: the powers-that-be have decided to trust their audience to watch, rather than read, this particular show.)
Bourne and his collaborators give us plenty to see. The design is glorious: Lez Brotherston has provided sets and costumes that are eloquent, eye-filling creations on their own, and that serve Bourne's vision of the tale profoundly well. There's a dark, brooding Burton-esque laboratory and a pop art vision of a '50s-style Levittown that serves as background for the scenes set in the American suburban neighborhood where the show takes place; moody drops and projections (lighting is by Howard Harrison) provide for smooth and elegant transitions that keep the show flowing as smoothly and cinematically as its source material must have. Brotherston's showpieces are the stunning but whimsical menagerie of animals that the title character has presumably carved from hedges and foliage, and the beautiful parades of costumes that adorn the many crowd scenes ("The Suburban Ballet," "The Boggs Barbeque," "The Annual Christmas Ball").
Terry Davies's music is just as vital to this remarkable show. Much of it is based on Danny Elfman's score for the film, and all of it is lovely, evocative, and appropriate.
The story—familiar even if, like me, you didn't actually see the movie—centers around a boy named Edward who is built by an Inventor; in place of hands, his creator gives him scissor blades, thus his moniker. The Inventor is killed as a result of a Halloween prank, and eventually, Edward is discovered lurking near the suburban home of the Boggs family. Though they're initially put off by his strange configuration, the Boggses decide to take him in. Edward proves to be quite handy as a gardener/landscaper and also turns his hand to barbering. As he becomes more "human," he falls in love with the Boggs' daughter, Kim. The outcome of this romantic longing is probably never really in doubt, and the tale ends on a bittersweet note.
The piece succeeds beautifully as a fable, but the real richness of this production comes from its emotional power. Kim (portrayed at the performance reviewed by Kerry Biggin) is torn between the magically pure and sweet Edward and her handsome, manly boyfriend Jim Upton (the mayor's son; performed with enormous potency by Adam Galbraith). Indeed, the play's epilogue, in which a much older Kim looks back sadly on the lost romance with Edward, suggests an even deeper direction that this piece might have gone had Bourne decided to make Kim his protagonist.
But that honor belongs to Edward himself, quite properly; I saw Richard Winsor in the role in one of the most stirring, heartfelt, and thoroughly physical performances I've ever witnessed. (Note that Winsor alternates with Sam Archer in the role; all of the characters are double-cast, so you may not see the same actor/dancers that I saw.) Winsor dances effortlessly and eloquently, but it's his acting that really impresses: he imbues Edward with such clear sadness that he comes close to breaking our hearts. We feel the "otherness'; more than that, we're keenly aware that the steel blades that are his fingers prevent him from ever touching anyone else without hurting them. And right there is the heart of this extraordinary show.
Bourne's choreography blends ballet and various other eclectic dance styles with a kind of heightened mime to tell the story with clarity, wit, and vigor. Several of the musical numbers are electrifying, such as "The Boggs Barbeque," in which Edward is welcomed to his new home by the entire neighborhood, and "The Annual Christmas Ball," which brings the tale to its climax. The Act One finale "Topiary Ballet," a dream sequence in which a romance between Kim and a normal-handed Edward is envisioned, feels the most like classical ballet, and soars luminously. (One question that's cannily never answered is whose dream this is: Edward's? or Kim's?)
I love Matthew Bourne's work because it breaks down the barriers between genres. Who cares if this is a ballet or a musical or (more appropriately) an innovative hybrid that combines some of the best of both of those worlds. It's affecting, effective theatre, and finally that's the only thing that matters. Bourne's way of conveying not only the story but the deeply-felt themes of this piece is a gift to be treasured: BAM's presentation of Edward Scissorhands is undeniably one of the highlights of this theatre season in New York.