There is such tragedy and young, pure love in Tim Burton’s signature early film, it was destined to be a ballet or opera despite the staging challenges the story presents. While there is the outsider element that is dramatically so interesting, there is also a lot of humour and lightness that makes this production such a joy to watch. 


When a wealthy inventor’s son dies, he creates a man to replace him. The staging of the workshop, dancer Liam Mower bent double over a table as the finishing touches are done to this invention - a man - are as macabre and fascinating as the film portrayed. He straightens up and turns to face us, the same pure naivety as Johnny Depp’s original character, and very impressively, the same fashion-meets-robot leather outfit, and the central part of the whole plot - the enormous knives he has instead of hands that the inventor never gets the chance to replace. In this version, Edward is found in picture-perfect pink suburbia, searching through a bin for food. When he turns to reveal the extent of his eccentric presentation, the 1950s housewife is horrified, but takes him home anyway, putting pyjamas over his leather body and tucking him in with a pink eiderdown blanket. Like the film, he is an instant hit in the neighbourhood, but clearly an outsider to the jocks and cheerleaders who dance in a wonderful ensemble nimbly around him. 

Celebrated and accepted, he is joyful - wide-eyed and almost in disbelief at having been found - and looks so happy to be at a party, a smart suit so incongruent to his chaotic hair. When he accidentally cuts a young boy’s face, he is banished to his palace on the hill by an unruly mob. It is so poignant, so dramatic and surreal yet says so much about a group mentality and what it means to be an outsider. 


The set moves between monotonous but cute suburbia, inside the family home, Edward’s palace, and a kind of dreamworld into which he escapes for a beautiful pas de deux with his love interest - and the production does it all seamlessly. There is so much that is visual that is central to the story, and none of that is lost here. Costume shines brightly in any ballet but here clothes are so symbolic - who’s in, who’s out, who is young and innocent, who is sophisticated and preened - and huge credit is due to Lez Brotherston who designed the set and costume and gave all the different characters the ability to express through their clothes. Edward’s costumes are particularly striking - the scissor hands, and all the outfits - suits, Bermuda shorts, pyjamas - that show the extent of his outsider status and how much he is accepted. 


Altogether, it is truly beautiful and moving, and captures the complicated tension between tragedy and love story that the film showed so well. I hope Johnny and Winona Ryder, and you, get to see this brilliant production.

At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 20 January. Then touring until 2 June. Tickets from £19: here.


Review: Caiti Grove     Photos: Johan Persson