Snip, snip, tinkle, chime. The hero of Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands
doesn’t talk, nor does anyone else in this danced version of Tim Burton’s movie of the same name. But as the lonely, unfinished creation of an eccentric inventor, the marvelous performer Sam Archer has resources the film’s star, Johnny Depp, never tapped into. The gleaming bouquets of blades tremble sonorously when the awkwardly stiff Edward is nervous, or when desire for pretty Kim Boggs inflames him. They clatter when he’s upset. They clang when he’s exuberantly leading a holiday dance in the town that has adopted him. Their metallic sound even enters Terry Davies’s music (some of which is based on themes from Danny Elfman’s film score).
Bourne is a brilliant storyteller, as he’s proved with his re-creations of Swan Lake, Cinderella, Nutcracker, and other classics. He divides the population of the superficially “nice” town, Hope Springs, into five families: the naively sweet Boggses; the Monroes (dominated by the sexually voracious Joyce); the wealthy Uptons, whose paterfamilias is the town’s mayor; the scruffy Grubbs; the Covitts (as in, covet thy neighbor’s everything); and the morbidly religious Evercreeches. To help us identify them, Bourne has them “drive” around Lez Brotherston’s wonderful village of distorted pastel-colored houses, each family in a car that’s designated only by a handheld steering wheel and powered by the occupants’ scuttling feet.
He’s wisely scuttled the movie’s climax (too complicated to deliver wordlessly). Instead, Kim’s jealous lout of a boyfriend (terrific performance by James Leece) gets
Edward drunk, provokes a fight, and knocks him into the Christmas tree. In the ensuing
short circuit and brouhaha, Edward’s blades accidentally slash the cheek of the Boggs son. The town turns vicious as quickly as it had earlier co-opted Edward’s skills at shaping topiary, designing hairdos, and clipping poodles. Kim is left beside a grave marked “Edward,” holding a single pair of scissors.
All sorts of telling touches—some front-and-center, some so subtle you might miss them—delineate the town characters and their relations to the hero. While Joyce Monroe (slinky Michela Meazza) tries to seduce Edward, her hapless husband, phallic gas-can nozzle in hand, attempts to get his lawn mower started. When two kids briefly meet wearing shirts and caps like Edward’s, we understand he’s become the town fad.
Bourne’s choreography serves the plot. When teen- agers or parents dance, they pair up and cut loose; although the jivey steps require skilled performers, Bourne and his superb cast make you feel that this is dancing anyone could do when a backyard barbecue gets boisterous. The ice-skating scene and Christmas party are similarly “real,” except that Edward’s intoxicated state allows him to whip off all kinds of crazy whirls and leaps. It’s hard to decide whether Bourne can’t create truly imaginative steps or decides not to in the interests of consistency and believability. The dream duet, in which Edward, minus his scissors, dances with Kim (I saw Hannah Vassallo in the role), involves low-key pas de deux stuff and an ensemble of human-shaped hedges. These form beguiling arches and allées for the lovers to wind through, but their own steps are basic, appropriate for folks wearing Brotherston’s witty all-over leaf suits and boxy tutus.
The inhabitants of Bourne’s Hope Springs are even more like caricatures than those in the film, yet he gives them individuality and nuance (the cool teen- agers in jeans who frighten the old inventor to death in the opening scene wear scary masks as their only concession to Halloween and mock the younger boy who tags hopefully along dressed as a pumpkin).
Borrowing from story ballets, musicals, and movies, Bourne has created a form of danced drama unlike any one of them. His fairy tales for the 21st century have a gritty edge, and archetypal depths lurk beneath their theatrical appeal. Edward, the manufactured outsider, is more “human” than the creepily sanitized townsfolk we laugh at.