Running (and Dancing) with Scissors


The following contains spoilers for the film and stage versions of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

A couple of Saturdays ago I indulged in a night of culture when I finally got to see Matthew Bourne’s impeccable dance adaptation of Edward Scissorhands. I found it a completely magical experience, and though it made some notable changes to Tim Burton/Caroline Thompson’s original story from 1990, I understand why these changes were necessary for a successful transition to the stage. The stage is, after all, a very revealing space, a space which requires bigger emotional expression and creative conveyance of your story’s themes.

The film and stage versions may be different, but both are great interpretations of this particular modern fairy tale of an unnatural outsider’s struggle to fit in. Bourne and original screenplay writer Thompson tweak Edward’s origins for the dance – here he’s a real boy killed in a tragic accident and later revived with his unusual appendages, whereas he’s closer to a cookie than a corpse in Burton’s film. For the dance, Bourne makes the PINOCCHIO “real boy” references even more blatant, overshadowing the FRANKENSTEIN “it’s alive!” take of Burton’s film and arguably this does make Edward more relatable and human, even though he’s also implied to be somewhat supernatural here as well.

Unlike in the film, Edward is not a product of an unfortunate but unavoidable incident (the Inventor, played by Vincent Price in his final screen appearance dies of old age before completing him) but of a gang of rowdy teens terrorising his creator and driving him to an early grave. Here, Edward is a product of societal flaws, the pure malice of kids with nothing better to do, rather than tragic circumstance, and this could conceivably give him motivation for revenge. Bourne and Thompson smartly instead make Jim kill himself accidentally rather than making Edward responsible, which he is in the Burton film for flat-out murdering him (defending Kim, but still…).

Not everything has been altered in Edwards transition to stage, and it’s still recognisably the same story being told. The characters’ relationships and themes of the story remain pretty much identical, and only difference in Edward’s portrayal is a little less naivety, more confidence and arguably more character development in the stage version (good as Johnny Depp was in the film).

Both dance and film appear to be set in a very 80s take on the 50s (influenced primarily by Tim Burton’s upbringing) and while you could poke holes in some of the iconography not fitting in its allotted decade, both takes on Edward Scissorhands get American Suburbian satire just right. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the dance with the OTT choreography of the nuclear families beginning their days, Edward’s awkward tip-toe shuffle in contrast to everyone else’s big movements. It’s a shallow, cruel pastel world Edward is dropped into, and the craftsmen working on stage and screen help engage you in his journey from freakish outsider to curiosity and back again through clever, graphically distinctive designs and effective use of available space.

Which version of Edward Scissorhands do I prefer? That’s a difficult one to answer, given that film and dance for the stage are completely different mediums with different requirements. The performances are understandably bigger on stage to covey the range of emotions needed, the key beats choreographed to within an inch of their lives to make up for the lack of dialogue. Both Bourne and Burton treat Thompson’s story well, and even without Burton’s direct input on Bourne’s stage adaptation, it had his blessing and still feels like a slightly different take on the same story by borrowing much of Danny Elfman’s score (with tonally fitting expansion from Terry Davies) and Burton’s aesthetic. Really, which version will connect the strongest with you will be entirely down to what you want from your art and entertainment and how you choose to experience it. Me? I’ll have a little bit of both please. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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