Break with tradition

Two versions of the Nutcracker open this Christmas, one a risqué production by satirist Gerald Scarfe, the other a camp confection by designer Anthony Ward.

In this one, first unveiled last year, Bourne and Ward have gone all-out for camp excess – at least in the second half. The show opens with the young heroine Clara in a Dickensian orphanage, realised in expressionistic monochrome, where Christmas is a pathetic sham and all the children’s presents are whisked away as soon as the visiting benefactors leave.

After the gloom of the orphanage, the second act is a riot of colour, as kitsch and sticky as a bag of dolly mixture, as one critic put it. In the Land of Sweets we meet the Marshmallow Girls in eye-popping pink, and an hilarious homme fatale done up as a knickerbocker glory.

Famed for his irreverent attitude to the ballet ‘classics’, Bourne made it clear to Ward that he wanted the second act to look as camp and pink as possible.

‘One of the reviews compared me to Barbara Cartland,’ says Ward with mock indignation. ‘Apparently, she always said you can never have too much pink!’

Clearly, The Nutcracker provides an excuse for designers to let their hair down and indulge their inner child.

For Scarfe it was also a welcome opportunity to escape the solitude of his Chelsea studio.

‘For some time I have found cartooning creatively insufficient,’ he explains. ‘All these other things I do are an escape from the inevitability of drawing yet another politician I can’t stand. I used to get bored stiff drawing Mrs Thatcher week after week.

‘I feel secure in my diversification and I love the idea of creating a whole world, as in The Nutcracker or The Magic Flute, which I did for Peter Hall in Los Angeles,’ he adds.

Surprisingly for a satirist, Scarfe claims, ‘I’ve never gone out of my way to shock or to be fierce. When people said my drawings were shocking I was stunned.

‘Sometimes it helps to have boundaries because you have something to push against. But when I do a stage show or a film I’m usually given carte blanche. I suspect it’s because people don’t quite know how to take my strange visions. If it turned out to be really offensive then they might feel they had to say something.

‘In a newspaper you have to hit hard and draw the reader’s attention instantly. My instinct in whatever I do is to go for the jugular. I would hate to be part of anything bland. I’ve often had to say to people I’m working with, “I’m sorry I can’t do that, I’d be letting myself down”.’

English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker opens at the Carling Apollo, Hammersmith, London W6 on 24 December; Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is now on at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Islington, London N1

Gerald Scarfe’s exhibition, Heroes and Villains, is on show at the National Portrait Gallery until 4 April 2004

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