January 08, 2015

Edward Scissorhands Cuts Straight to the Heart

             The true test of a great show is when the audience leaves wondering how the time could have possibly elapsed so quickly. Another is when the dance moves all look completely effortless, but you know that they are anything but easy. This is the power that choreographer/director Matthew Bourne holds with all of his dance productions. As the puppeteer who manipulates the strings, Bourne leaves you spellbound as a visionary fairytale is woven in front of your eyes. If you couldn’t tell already, I highly recommend Bourne’s work, having previously attended performances of Swan Lake (find my review here), Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker! Now I am able to add Edward Scissorhands to my ever-growing list. The show ends its run at Sadler’s Wells Theatre this month on the 11th.  All tickets unsurprisingly sold out, so I apologize that they will be unavailable to purchase after I rave about it!

It's probably best that my friend and I leave it to the professionals...
             Bourne wanted to rework Edward Scissorhands for the stage ever since he saw the 1990 film directed by Tim Burton. The film has become a cult classic in its own right and usually pops up on television screens around Christmastime, just as it did this past year. If you don’t know the story, it follows quirky outsider Edward, who is the unfinished creation of an inventor who died before completing the job. Edward’s quest for love and acceptance proves not to be so easy, as his many efforts are thwarted and made more difficult due to having scissors for hands. The cookie cutter suburban town Edward finds himself in doesn’t know what has hit it!

 Johnny Depp, the Edward Scissorhands we have come to know and love, "teetered on the verge of tears throughout" Matthew Bourne's production and paid a visit to the cast backstage, photo courtesy of Sky TV
             Edward Scissorhands is a beautiful story in general, but when it’s coupled with tender dancing to music from Danny Elfman and Terry Davies, we are left with an even more melancholic and enchanting story. As with all of Bourne’s productions, the stage is a hotbed of activity. Since no talking is involved, the dancers have to rely on relaying nonverbal cues and facial expressions to the audience. This assumes a certain amount of perception from the audience members, because with such a busy atmosphere, it is up to us what we decide to hone in on and what we decide to leave in the periphery.

Domesticating Edward, photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             For example, take the scene where the residents attend a Christmas dance. Edward starts to feel awkward and ashamed as he sizes up the dancers around him, each with two perfect hands. He cowers away from the dance floor, opting instead to slope around the outskirts. The embarrassment on his face is apparent and the longing he feels for Kim, who is dancing with her boyfriend Jim, is written all over his face. I divided my attention between the rest of the cast dancing and Edward, because by himself, his body language and pained visage told a story of its own accord. Details like this are precisely what will draw audiences to Bourne’s productions over and over again. Your observational skills and level of appreciation will continue to grow right alongside your number of viewings.

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             The idyllic neighborhood is made up of quaint homes and quaint people. The houses are painted in cheery hues, with cheery faces that emerge and retreat from their doors. There are the obligatory cheerleaders, jocks, doting mothers, and hardworking fathers. Despite appearances, the town holds its fair share of secrets as well. Joyce is a lonely housewife who regularly cheats on her husband and that shines through in her brilliant, sexualized dancing persona. She tries to seduce a very confused and frightened Edward, while the religious fanatics try to repel Edward with their crosses and prayers.

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             The breathtaking set borrows recognizable Burton-esque elements from the film. However, as to be expected, there are unique alterations that add a spin to the original. Edward finds nifty alternative uses for his “hands,” such as pruning bushes and hedges into animals, ice carving (which involves a scene with a gorgeous ice angel sculpture prop), and even making a job out of giving the neighbors “edgy” new haircuts. The production introduces a lovely dream sequence where Edward imagines that he has real hands. He is able to flirtatiously chase Kim around a garden made up of shrubs and trees decorated into shapes, which are actually people. They playfully join Edward and Kim’s game, concealing and revealing the two blissful imaginary lovebirds.

Edward and Kim share a tender moment, photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             As for Dominic North, who plays our antihero Edward, anyone who can forgo opposable thumbs, trade them in for workable scissors (albeit false ones), and still manage to dance gracefully must automatically be dubbed as a seriously standout dancer. Indeed, North was nominated for Outstanding Male Dancer at the National Dance Awards in 2010. The irony of Edward Scissorhands though is the fact that Edward is gentle and peaceful. He doesn’t use his “scissorhands” with malicious intent, although he could well do. Jim, however, is rough and ready with his hands, using force with Kim and having an eventual blowout with Edward.

The neighborhood kids, with Kim and Jim front and center, photo courtesy of Johan Persson
             The story stands as a testament to human nature; we lash out against and attack what we don’t understand. Just as we are about to claim that nice guys don’t always finish last and Edward and Kim finally kiss, Edward is exiled once more to his former house upon the hill. As the cast took their final curtain call, they stayed in character until the very end, and as the applause subsided, we were all left wondering how the time could have possibly elapsed so quickly.

             For upcoming performances at Sadler’s Wells, visit the theatre’s website here. Explore the Edward Scissorhands production on the New Adventures website here. New Adventures is Bourne’s company with co-director Robert Noble.

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson

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