Edward Scissorhands, Sadler's Wells, London<br/>Royal Ballet Mixed Bill, Royal Opera House, London

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's not hard to see why Matthew Bourne wanted to make a stage version of Tim Burton's cinematic fairytale Edward Scissorhands. The film is full of the kind of natty social observation cut with pathos that sets Bourne's directoral juices flowing. And even though the film story uses a script, it's powered along on its musical score. What's less clear is why Bourne hasn't taken advantage of the carte blanche granted him by Burton and the film's screenwriter, Caroline Thompson. Both seemed genuinely curious in handing over their camp-gothic baby to see what the choreographer would make of him.

The result is a speechless mirror of the film, meekly compliant in nearly every detail. It even has the same flaws of plotting, in that it's still unclear how the boy Edward - the product of a bereaved inventor in a creaky, bat-infested castle - came to have bunches of garden shears in place of hands, and this despite Bourne's addition of a prologue to fill in the character's history. In the film, Edward's creator drops dead of old age, which at least is unambiguous. In Bourne's prologue he falls foul of an invasion of local louts on a Halloween dare. Does a man die of fright seeing a teenager dressed as a pumpkin? I'm still puzzling over that.

The wow factor is supplied by designer Lez Brotherston, whose hilltop castle - gorgeously lit in alternating shafts of lightning and silty shadow by Howard Harrison - is a fabulous gothic playground seen all too briefly before Edward descends (for what reason we can only guess) into pastel-hued suburbia. Even this humdrum locale is made fascinating by crazy perspectives and a playful way with scale that unites lawns and paths with doors and walls in a comical single plane.

Bourne clearly had fun picturing the neighbourhood's variously dysfunctional families - the white trash, the religious fundamentalists, the neighbourhood vamp - but he over-eggs the pudding and they're too crude to be funny. The couple worth watching are Etta Murfitt and Scott Ambler as Edward's foster parents, both veterans of the meticulous character-study that has distinguished Bourne's best work. Behind the frilled pinny and the sucked pipe, you feel, are vulnerable beating hearts.

In terms of finding opportunities for dance the show is on a hiding to nothing. Johnny Depp's stiff little walk in the film isn't enough to sustain two acts on stage, but Bourne fails to give his Edward any other distinguishing movement, save for having him flail about like a winnowing machine in the big company set pieces. Even these feel arbitrary and strained for. The best idea is a formal ballet for topiary hedges, presented by Edward to Kerry Biggin's Kim as a means of opening her eyes to his idea of beauty, just as Dr Drosselmeyer presents Clara with the World of Snow in The Nutcracker. Bourne is always most inspired when referencing classical sources, and though his hedge confection hardly matches Ivanov's snowflakes for pattern, it's flamboyant and witty and neatly done.

In the end, though, the piece lives or dies on the extent to which Edward's plight, as the doomed outsider, touches audiences' hearts. Mine was left cold, for all that I could admire the way Bourne's creative team bent their skills to replicating cinematic effects. Danny Elfman's score is the deadener. For all its tingly atmospherics, it basically has only two tunes. Terry Davies tries to bring variety with perky additional sections of Lindyhop and such like, which the orchestra attack with gusto. But this is patch-up work, not a well of inspiration of the order of Bizet's Carmen or Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, scores that have spurred Bourne's free invention in the past. In Edward Scissorhands, he isn't setting the creative pace, he's dutifully trotting behind.

Frederick Ashton - a personal hero of Bourne's - showed how a thing of magnificence could grow from a mere germ of an idea in his setting of Ravel's La Valse which heads the new Royal Ballet Mixed Bill. Ravel's score is hardly comparable to Danny Elfman's, but it occupies the same cloudy-glittery sound spectrum, and limited melodic material. Ashton does no more than show ballroom couples falling under its sway in the course of a waltz, but the effect sets your scalp tingling for a quarter of an hour.

Alastair Marriott, trying his choreographic muscle for the first time on the big Opera House stage, has learned a lot from dancing Ashton with the company, and from Balanchine too. Tanglewood, his new work for 15 dancers, shares Ashton's detail and economy and Balanchine's cool sense of sculpture, yet manages to be unlike either. It also achieves the distinction of imagining an entire world within its abstract score - Ned Rorem's lush, American-pastoral violin concerto. What was it about? Nothing and everything. Yet it had a strange, post-apocalyptic feel of hopefulness in its soaring shapes and gleaming stillnesses, and provided the perfect swansong for Darcey Bussell, borne high across the stage as if she were the Holy Grail.

'Scissorhands': Sadler's Wells (0870 737 7737) to 5 Feb. Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: ROH (020 7304 4000) Fri & 12 Dec