Imaginative films are often tempting subjects for stage adaptations, which is exactly the case with Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton's popular 1990 film that has been ingeniously brought to the stage by a UK-based creative team including director/choreographer Matthew Bourne, set and costume designer Lez Brotherston, lighting designer Howard Harrison, and sound designer Paul Groothius. It will be seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this month as part of a US tour that began on the West Coast this past fall and continues through May 2007 by way of Toronto, St. Paul, Denver, and Seattle.
Edward, the central character, was created by an inventor who dies before the boy is finished, leaving him with long scissor blades instead of hands. He finds himself living with a “typical” American family in the unremarkable suburban town of Hope Springs, where he is ultimately rejected for being so different. “I tried not to use the film as a reference,” says Brotherston, who had collaborated with Bourne on previous productions such as his all-male version of Swan Lake.
Brotherston stresses that the production is not contemporary. “It is a vision of suburban life back in 1950s America,” he says. “Edward is a very unusual person in a very ordinary place.” To create the '50s-inspired costumes, Brotherston gave each family its own style, yet found that the '50s full skirts with waists were a good shape for the female dancers. “They are almost like a tutu, with a nice fluid movement,” he says. “The story is told through the characters and what they wear.”
“The lighting is very much like a musical,” says Harrison, who called for a rig comparable to a mid-scale Broadway or West End production to light the set where pastel houses create a backdrop for an “all-American” lifestyle. The rig includes Clay Paky CP 400s (which Harrison calls “fantastic” for cyc lighting), Vari-Lite VL2000 Spots and Washes, a VL3000, VL1000TS units, Martin MAC 600s, ETC Source Fours, Strand Toccatas with White Light VSFX projectors, 90° Selecon Pacific ellipsoidals, Rainbow Color Changers, High End Systems Dataflash AF1000s, two DHA Digital Light Curtains, and White Light's new snow machines. The automated fixtures are overhead with a few FOH as specials.
White Light in London provided gear for the US tour — with support from 4Wall-Phoenix — including a Strand 520 console programmed by Victoria Smerdon in the UK and Mike Hill in the US. Andy Murrel was production electrician.
The surround of the set is an RP screen with scrims, where clouds from the VFSX projectors float by in front of the screen, creating images that look three-dimensional, with two layers of color. In other scenes, the action takes place behind scrims, which Harrison found challenging as the plot has very little front light.
Brotherston's scenic design leaves much of the floor clear for dancing, with Harrison using dance-style sidelight (“but not much more than a musical might have,” he notes) with 6'-tall side booms hung with ETC Source Fours and PARs. In a magical sequence where Edward creates ice sculptures with his scissorhands, Harrison projects snow in the Toccatas and VSFX projectors, with artificial flakes from 16 snow machines to create a snow-filled world. The ice sculptures are made with clear plastic on frames, with “ice” chipped away via hydraulics.
“The storytelling is something quite magical, but we have to create a world you can believe in,” says Harrison. In keeping with the story, the lighting often goes beyond naturalism. “It is emotionally dark and heightened at times,'' he says. Yet when set in the typical “backyard America'' created by Brotherston, the lighting moves to saturated pinks and yellows. “There is a Norman Rockwell-style America — a normal suburban town where an extraordinary boy arrives,” says Harrison. There is also a lot of saturated color used in a scene where Edward takes Kim to a magical world of dancing topiary that Edward has clipped into various shapes.
“It is an emotional journey, using music and movement to stir your emotions, yet without words,” says Brotherston. “Dance, more than any other form, tells you about emotion, and the movement here is very expressive. The scenic design is very simple, not too many tricks or complications. This is the kind of theatre where you want the audience to use its imagination.”