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Cutting It

Sir Matthew Bourne’s dance adaptation of the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands visits Birmingham in February as part of a national tour, with Midlands-bred Ben Brown taking on the role of Jim Upton. What’s On recently caught up with Ben to find out more about the show...

Sir Matthew Bourne is surely one of the country’s best-known choreographers. Performances by his dance company, New Adventures, frequently draw a crowd, perhaps thanks to their accessible, engaging style and subject matter. 

The company are back in the Midlands next month with their revival of Edward Scissorhands. Also back in the Midlands to appear in the show is dancer Ben Brown, who grew up in the region and has been performing with New Adventures for the past six years, appearing in Cinderella, Nutcracker!, Romeo & Juliet and Sleeping Beauty, among other productions. 

Although his coveted place in the company is now well established, Ben was guided on his journey to become a professional dancer by those who saw his potential: “I started at a local dance school, and they told me that I should go and audition for Junior Associates at Birmingham Royal Ballet - I did that.

They said I should go and audition for Royal Ballet School at White Lodge - I did that. I had a hiatus - I took about two years out - then decided I did want to be a dancer, and went to Laine Theatre Arts to study Musical Theatre. I joined New Adventures after that.

“I’ve definitely worked for it, but I don’t think it was a conscious decision that I was going to be a dancer - I just loved it, and it seems to have worked out! I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t doing this...”

Although he has dabbled in other performance disciplines, Ben hasn’t yet made the sideways move away from the world of dance. “I’ve never done a musical theatre production, but I would like to. I’ve been too busy working with New Adventures, which is a great place to be! It was pretty much dance straight away, other than a nativity play at primary school - I was a very convincing donkey.”

Edward Scissorhands is based on the 1990 Tim Burton film of the same name. A gothic fantasy romance, its protagonist is naïve and ageless Edward - the creation of an inventor who died before supplying him with hands. Why he put grotesque scissors there in the first place is a moot point.

The film tells the touching story of the acceptance - or rejection - of Edward in a suburban American community and teems with Tim Burton’s gothic-inspired aesthetic. 

New Adventures’ stage version was created in collaboration with the film’s screenwriter, Caroline Thompson. Composer Danny Elfman’s original score was adapted by Terry Davies, helping to maintain the film’s style. 

However, there were other hurdles to jump when adapting Burton’s movie for live performance - not least, as Ben points out, ensuring that Edward’s hands looked effective: “They could very easily look like a prop, rather than actually being part of him - and the show is Edward Scissorhands, so if the scissor-hands aren’t believable, it’s not going to work!”

Ben plays Jim Upton, who is something of an antagonist in the story - but that’s not how he appears at first: “He’s the all-American sweetheart, essentially. He’s a jock, and he’s the guy that everyone in the community looks up to.”

Jim is in a relationship with Kim, Edward’s love interest. “At first you think it’s a great relationship; then, as the show goes on, you realise he’s not quite as nice as he puts himself across. It’s quite a fun character to play. You get some great dancing moments with Kim, but you also get to not just be the nice guy.” 

Jim’s on-stage swagger contrasts with Edward’s mechanical movement, and Ben clearly revels in the role. “It’s quite fun to play a part that has such a good arc, where you get to show off different sides of the character.”

His highlight of the production, however, is a more melancholy one: the final ‘Farewell’ duet, between Edward and Kim. “It’s just so beautiful. The music in that scene is phenomenal - it takes you into their world. They’ve essentially realised that they have this connection, but it can never work... It’s a very poignant moment.”

Ben first performed with New Adventures in Cinderella in 2017, but he still has an iconic production on his bucket list: Swan Lake. “When I first auditioned for the company, it was for Cinderella and Swan Lake. I was hoping for Swan Lake but I got Cinderella - which I’m not complaining about; I had a great time!”

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, which premiered in 1995, is one of the radical reinterpretations of classical ballet which helped him become a household name. In the production, the traditionally female swans are played by men. 

“I think every single male dancer in the company would always want to play the swan - I think lots of the female dancers would like to as well. It’s one of those roles. You watch Billy Elliot, as a young kid going into dance, and you see Adam Cooper going on stage as the big Swan, and think ‘Yep, that’s the one!’ That would be great.”

Ben is no stranger to Birmingham Hippodrome. “I’m from Dudley way. My first-ever show was at the Wolverhampton Grand, with my local dance school. Returning to the Hippodrome always feels like a homecoming - I was eight years old the first time I danced on that stage with Birmingham Royal Ballet.”

Performing in a venue so close to home has benefits other than nostalgia, and Ben is looking forward to performing on ‘home ground’, where friends and family can easily attend and enjoy the show. The production is recommended for ages five-plus, and although it’s not primarily a family show, the colour, spectacle and music allow for a broad audience appeal.

“All my family is coming to Edward Scissorhands - I’ve got my little nieces and nephews coming as well, which is their first introduction to theatre. My niece has seen me perform, but my nephew hasn’t, so that’s very exciting.”

The production has previously toured the world, and is making a comeback after 10 years. Having won the 2007 Desk Drama Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, Edward Scissorhands promises an intriguing night out, both for those who are brand-new to the story and for big fans of the original film. Be sure to grab yourself a ticket asap! 

Feature by Jessica Clixby

Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from from Tues 6 to Sat 10 February.