Well, I have returned from London—just in time to dodge the “poison clouds” that were expected to blanket the city on 12 December after what the Evening Standard proclaimed to be an “apocalyptic” conflagration in Hemel Hempstead. I did notice the black band of smoke on Sunday afternoon, but failed to match either my observations or my persistent respiratory problems (my cough being a New York City import) with the headlines I had read just hours earlier. I don’t know, somehow bold print on a front page always makes news spell something not pertaining or happening to me. What did happen to me that day was a theatrical experience that, while not quite a blot on the sunny skies of my holiday disposition, left me colder than the wet ashes of an extinguished winter blaze.
I am referring to Matthew Bourne’s production of Edward Scissorhands, the quirky fairy tale created for the screen by Tim Burton and scored by Danny Elfman back in 1990. Burton’s motion pictures are distinguished by a peculiar tension of aesthetics, a confrontation of Post-Modern and Victorian sensibilities, of the queer and sentimental, that conjures up the bathos of a melancholy drunkard slipping in and out of consciousness at an anything goes Halloween bash. The Penguin in the bleak cityscape of Batman Returns comes to mind; or the lonely giant of Big Fish. Sometimes this aesthetic exchange feels rather forced and irksomely disingenuous.
The opening scenes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a movie-qua-computer game about as charming and magical as a dead rabbit pulled out of a plastic top hat, seem as authentic in their winter-of-our-discontentedness as the patched-up seconds of a third-rate Oliver!. With the sweet-and-sour confectionery that is Edward Scissorhands, on the other, finger-licking good hand, Burton got it just about right.
I considered myself both tickled and stirred. Here, the dark scenes contrast with and accentuate the bright in such poignant counterpoint, it is like watching an energetic MTV-age cut of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Unfortunately, Bourne did not manage to infuse his stage version with the same bathos.
Whimsical scenery and a general busyness of dancers jogging about in costumes apparently on loan from a touring company of Hairspray are violently yoked with more or less static scenes depicting Edward in quiet despair. I could have told Bourne that making Edward both move and moving would prove an impossible assignment: you simply can’t dance with scissors.
Edward cuts a dashing figure, all right, but it’s the topiary. At one point, this good twin of Freddy Krueger sheds the shears to take his limbs for a spin; but that only underscores the weaknesses of Bourne’s less than cutting edge production. It would be less painful to watch a clipped wings edition of Swan Lake, the resplendent ballet spectacular that had me in tears at Sadler’s Wells the previous year.
To borrow from an old Saturday Night Live sketch, the modern dance theatre version of Edward Scissorhands at Sadler’s Wells is neither modern, nor dance, nor theater. . . . Now talk amongst yourselves.