Observer - New Review Q & A with Matthew
14 December 2014
The British director and choreographer on following Swan Lake, why Edward Scissorhands is ideal for Christmas, and who should win Strictly Come Dancing. By Viv Groskop
Born in Hackney and with no training as a dancer until he reached his early 20s, Matthew Bourne, 54, is widely hailed as the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer/director. He has made his name putting a twist on classics, most famously Swan Lake with male swans. He is a four-time Olivier award-winner and the only British director to have won a Tony for both best choreographer and best director of a musical. His latest show, Edward Scissorhands, is currently at Sadler’s Wells in London.
You first staged Edward Scissorhands in 2005. How has it changed since then?
There are new orchestrations, new choreography, new stage design. It’s not a straightforward revival. Hopefully it’s stronger. If there was a criticism of it before, it’s that it wasn’t emotional enough and didn’t touch people as much as they thought it was going to. This time I’m thrilled to see people with their hankies out. If people say “You made me cry”, I think: “Oh good.”
What’s Christmassy about the show?
It was never intended to be a Christmas show and we tour it outside that period but one of the biggest aspects of the show is that Edward creates snow. One of his talents is ice sculpture. So there is a lot of snow and an enormous Christmas tree. It’s a very magical tale.
What is your proudest achievement?
Following up Swan Lake. It became this massive hit and everyone was saying, “How can you follow that?” It did what dance shows don’t normally do. It went into the West End and Broadway. It was almost impossible to follow it up, to try and build on that audience that loved that piece and show we could do more... At the time it felt like a challenge and I’m so happy I wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
Outside your career, what are you most proud of?
I’ve mostly had a trouble-free life. My mum was ill when I was originally makingEdward Scissorhands in 2005. I was virtually visiting her every night after rehearsals and she never got to see it. It was about family and about an outsider with whom I identified because of where I came from [a non-theatrical background]. All those things reminded me of my childhood. I look back on that time when my mum was ill and I don’t know how I did it. She died the year after and my father another four years after that. Life changed a lot for me after that. It became more about work and friends. I don’t have that nostalgia any more or that cosy thing of going home for Christmas.
What are you doing this Christmas?
I’ll be going to friends on Christmas Day. But before then my partner and I – Arthur Pita, he’s a choreographer – we’re having a Russian Christmas at our place with lots of flavoured vodkas and caviar and smoked salmon. We live in the oldest house in Islington, an old grave-digger’s cottage, within walking distance of Sadler’s Wells.
Is it true you met Fred Astaire when you were a teenage autograph-hunter?
Yes. And I just got a Christmas card from his daughter. We have become friends. I used to go to the West End after school and at weekends with my best friend, Simon, when I was about 14. We went to stage doors and hotels and it was this massive autograph-collecting period that went on for about three years. We were terribly polite. It was all “Mr Astaire...” The Americans thought we were adorable. I also met Charlie Chaplin just before he died. I think [the autograph hunting] was about me wanting to be close to something that I didn’t know how to be close to. My parents were an ordinary East End family and very supportive – they would have supported me no matter what I wanted to do. But we were all naive about what I should do. I probably should have gone to drama school or something but we were just unaware.
What’s next for you?
We’re reviving The Car Man – based on Carmen. There’s also a film of Oliver! in the pipeline. Cameron Mackintosh is hoping to follow up Les Misérables with Oliver!and I’ve never really worked on a major film so that’s exciting.
I’ve heard that you are a big Strictly Come Dancing fan. Who should win next week’s final?
I have never missed a single episode. I love the story of the people who have started [dancing] from scratch. They are the exciting ones. I like Mark Wright because he gets so emotional about it all. Caroline Flack was amazing with her Argentine tango. I like the genuineness of it. It’s old-fashioned to say but it’s a show about the joy of dance and I love that. I was approached to be a judge from the very first series but I don’t want to be a personality or a talking head on TV. I know all those judges and they’re brilliant but they know it’s an act. I’m a choreographer and a director and I have no ambition beyond that.
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