WHERE to begin with Matthew Bourne’s The Nutcracker?

It’s such a total assault of the senses that it leaves you almost speechless by the end, able only to stagger outside into the night and wonder whether you’d dreamt it all.

Think camp Willy Wonka drug-induced fantasy and you’ll be nearly there. It’s so sickly sweet you can almost taste the sugar on your tongue, a record two hours with interval later.

It’s so visual, from the moment the curtain goes up on the grey orphanage existence, building in colour and ambition as Clara’s journey goes on, each set, character and costume getting more and more extravagant and extrovert as the ‘ballet’ progresses.

Eventually you are lulled into a false sense of security and think that mod rockers, Freddie Mercury impersonators, ice skaters and clubbers are the usual extras you’ll find on a ballet stage.

Not that they aren’t fabulous, but this Nutcracker is so far out of your comfort zone that you have to wince and hold on for the ride.

And as the bizarre, camp spectacle that Matthew Bourne has become famous for, reaches a crescendo, you can scarcely believe your eyes: a full scale wedding cake, complete with people in every slice, just like the Muppets intro, and the entire cast coming out and dancing their socks off.

But is it ballet? More so in the second half, but not really.

It’s dance, there’s no doubt about that, and the choreography is as innovative as the sets and costumes. You can see why it upsets the purists. But you can also see why Bourne packs the punters in.

It’s fun, it’s wonderful, it’s quick, it’s ridiculous, it’s a sensual overload . . . but ballet? Not really, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.