Director-choreographer Matthew Bourne channels filmmaker Tim Burton in his stage adaptation of “Edward Scissorhands,” and the hybrid form that emerges is neither fish nor fowl. Bourne hews faithfully to the inventive storyline of Burton’s 1990 film fable about a mutant boy who longs to be loved by a human girl; but while his wordless stage treatment is visually compelling, it lacks both the magic of the film and the drama of theater. For that matter, the dance component is a little skimpy, too.
Bourne’s dance-theater piece is certainly gorgeous to look at. In Lez Brotherston’s fantasy of American suburbia, the mise en scene is a surreal landscape of tiny pastel houses and broad, sparkling-clean streets suitable for ritual celebrations of Halloween, Christmas, Sunday mornings and a winning football season. Thanks to a soaring score, in which Terry Davies incorporates themes from Danny Elfman’s movie score, this eye-pleaser is even more entrancing to the ear.
But just as there are no shadows in this pretty picture, there are no nuances in the unfolding fairy tale, which chafes from the uneasy friction between its original content and the limitations of its new form.
In Burton’s film, the mute, child-like boy burdened with long, sharp scissor-blades for fingers was the embodiment of the sensitive teenager as social outcast — the lethal weapons flashing from his wrists a whimsical, but nonetheless powerful symbol of the capacity for violence latent in alienated youth. With a young Johnny Depp in the title role, the guileless Edward was able to maintain his sweet innocence without sacrificing those dark, largely subliminal intimations of danger.
A more searching exploration of this provocative theme might have yielded some high-anxiety dramatic tensions between an extraordinary kid who doesn’t realize the threat he presents to the conventional little town where he tries to win acceptance as a “normal” boy. Instead, Edward is dropped into a suburb community whose inhabitants aren’t the least bit dumbfounded by finding a mutant freak in their midst.
(Would they take him more seriously, one wonders, if he had a Wolverine beard — or rocket launchers sticking out of his wrists?)
Sam Archer, who alternates in the title role with Richard Winsor, seems perfectly capable of working his way deeper into Edward’s psyche. Tall and lithe and stunningly costumed in a sleek body suit that looks like leathery skin, he already carries a lot of weight — his awareness of being different from the other kids, his yearning to be accepted and loved as he is, and of course, those flashing blades.
With his spiky hair and demonic eye makeup as visual aids, the character appears both less and more than human, and he seems to know it. But while Archer may be up to it, Edward doesn’t get his self-aware moment of insight into his own soul, and he never looks into the face of whatever demon might be lurking in there.
Nor do the oblivious inhabitants of the town ever take a real look at this wondrous creature in their midst. Instead, in Caroline Thompson’s script, with its determination to amuse, they make a trained pet of him, delighted by his topiary skills, his ingenuity at styling hair, and his masterful style at a barbecue grill. And when they do turn on Edward, it’s due to circumstances dictated by the plot, not because they sense something threatening about those knife-like digits.
The only person who does look at Edward close enough to gauge his inner qualities is Kim Boggs, the wholesome cheerleader he mutely adores. But Kerry Biggin’s overly stolid performance leaves Archer gazing soulfully into the blank eyes of his beloved, and their lovely second act pas de deux is more an exhibition of athletic prowess than an emotionally transporting lovers’ dance.
At least some heat is generated when long-legged Michela Meazza, as the town’s red-headed mankiller Joyce Monroe, sinks her claws into Edward. It’s the only time someone really draws blood.