THE kindest response to Act I of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker at the O2 on Tuesday – and not only because of the otiose hors d’oeuvre of crooning from 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry – would be to pretend I’d failed to turn up in time. Unlike Romeo and Juliet – which the Royal Ballet brought so successfully to the same, cavernous venue in the summer, on an entirely open stage – this stupendous 1991 production brims with complex stage trickery that has to be hidden behind a proscenium arch, and it therefore needs to be looked at more or less straight on for the magic to work.
However, although its producer Peter Wright and designer John Macfarlane have dutifully adapted it for this vast space (complete with a new arch), our seats – along with those of various other critics, and many members of the public paying, I’m told, a thumping £65 a go – were at such a sharp angle to the stage that the entire right-hand side and rear of it were obscured (unlike the illusion-shattering depths of the wings, which were eminently in view).
We appeared to be in some kind of sonic blind-spot too. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, playing live, was wired up to the O2’s gargantuan sound system, yet not even Tchaikovsky’s transformation music reached us with much power. Admittedly, Nutcracker – an essentially domestic fantasy – was arguably always going to struggle to fill this arena as throroughly as Romeo’s grand passion. But, so far, this was plain awful – had BRB made a terrible mistake bringing it to the venue in the first place?
In the spirit of giving them every chance, we moved 50 yards along our row for Act II – further away from the action, but with a far squarer view of it – and heavens, what a difference this made. The specially adapted set and lighting looked magnificent, the giant, now non-foreshortened live screen above the stage was a far greater boon, and the music at last thundered out.
So, an alpha/gamma evening overall, and I’d add that although Wright was smart to extend the stage toward the stalls, he could yet make far more of this extra space. Still, three cheers to BRB, whose dancers rose as one to the demands of the venue, repeatedly taking to the air with a leonine grandeur worthy of the Bolshoi.
From The telegraph