Edward Scissorhands

Tim Burton doesn't automatically conjure images of swan costumes and toe shoes, but choreographer Matthew Bourne has transformed his classic film into a dance, and from London's reception of the new interpretation it looks like it was a good move.

Article by Julie Balazs | 15 Feb 2006
Edward Scissorhands

by Julie Balazs

You'd think it would be easy to explain 'fairytale' if you had to, for example to a very young child, or someone living under a rock, or Jessica Simpson. Slumbering princesses, dark woods, castles in the clouds, unusually large varieties of squash and all that. But this is only the shell. The essence of a fairytale is more complex, and to miss it out is to do it a huge disservice.

So what is a fairytale, if not a story about a serving girl and a prince, or a poor boy and a beanstalk? More than anything, it is just a story with a timeless and universal message, preferably veiled in the fantastical. 'Sleeping Beauty' isn't about the princess, it's about the prince: sometimes you have to fight to get what you want. But there are no guarantees – the pre-Disney Little Mermaid sacrificed everything and still didn't get what she wanted, and Cinderella was just lucky, really. Life in a nutshell, in three easy instalments.

Despite its modern setting, the greatest fairytale of our age is without question 'Edward Scissorhands', one of the most original films in cinema history and Tim Burton's greatest achievement. A man fashioned by an inventor is left unfinished when the inventor dies, with awkwardly crafted hands made of scissors, alone in a grey mansion atop a mountain. Some time later, an Avon lady comes calling and takes Edward down to a pastel suburbia. Ostensibly a love story, it is more importantly an exploration of society's tendency to misjudge what doesn't fit into a mould, and the loneliness and confusion experienced by outsiders.

As fairytales go, with its characteristic Burton gothicism, it certainly ticks all the boxes: isolated castle-type edifice, naïve protagonist, assistance from a well-meaning stranger, and a simple, universally applicable moral. What makes this a valuable addition to the corpus of fairytales is its stylistic deviation from the formula, as Burton abandons magic for mechanics, and turns the light-dark dichotomy on its head. The black and mysterious mountain hides a perfectly manicured garden and the innocent, gentle Edward, while behind the closed doors of the bright, orderly suburb lurks amorality, violence, suspicion and the intoxicating low light of religious fundamentalism.

Considering that most fairytales eventually receive a theatrical makeover, it was only a matter of time before 'Edward Scissorhands' was adapted for the stage. It has thankfully been spared the pantomime treatment, and instead has been placed in the hands of choreographer Matthew Bourne. If anyone is to adapt Tim Burton, it must be him. Burton claimed not to have re-filmed but 're-imagined' 'Planet of the Apes', and similarly Bourne's work is more than straightforward adaptation. He is behind recent interpretations of 'Swan Lake', in which the swans are controversially played by men, and 'Nutcracker!', reset in a Dickensian orphanage. He also worked on 'Billy Elliott' and the hugely successful stage version of 'Mary Poppins'.

Bourne creates dance, and consequently the dialogue from the film has been abandoned in favour of Danny Elfman's richly atmospheric score. It is a brave choice, as Burton fans tend to be protective and obsessive. However, Edward himself is a nearly silent character – he speaks only 169 words in the film – with little facial expression, conveying most of his emotion through his awkward and mechanical movement; and, like all good fairytales, 'Edward Scissorhands' is simple enough to be understood through movement and music alone. Perhaps the realisation of Bourne's vision was inevitable. And if it is even a fraction as memorable as Burton's film, it will be a spectacular and unmissable event.
Edward Scissorhands' plays at Edinburgh Festival Theatre from Feb 7-11.