Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker is the Christmas gift that keeps giving. It has just turned 20 and, by the time this review goes to press, it will have had its 400th performance, a formidable statistic for a mere two-decade existence and one that reflects just how popular it is.
So, besides the familiarly magnificent Tchaikovsky score, what’s so special about it? For one thing, it is produced by veteran dance-maker Peter Wright (who also celebrated a birthday over the weekend – his 85th).
Here working in the grandly late-19th-century manner, and retaining a handful of Lev Ivanov’s steps from 1892, he gets pretty much everything spot-on, from his lucid account of the plot to the gorgeously crystalline formations for the snowflakes.
Unlike the Royal’s version, however, BRB’s is also the work of that great stage sorcerer John Macfarlane, who, back in 1991, designed a vision of the tale as tasteful as it is magical.
The costumes and backdrops have a slightly-faded opulence that’s easy on the eye while also adding a subtle twist of melancholy, and Act I’s transformation scene is a thing of genuine wonder, the only one I’ve seen that genuinely leaves the shrinking heroine, Clara, looking the
What’s more, so brilliantly executed is all this that you feel as though you, too, have shrunk with the 15-year-old. This helps make the subsequent battle between the rats and toy soldiers – which in most productions leaves one craving the interval and a hefty slug of sauvignon — an exciting spectacle. Children in the audience were goggle-eyed, and I wonder if the adults weren’t taken back to those giddily exciting years when they themselves could more or less fit under their own parents’ Christmas tree.
In a typically lively overall effort, Carol-Anne Millar makes a delectable Clara, suitably yet un-simperingly girlish in the bosom of her family but powerfully showing innocence ceding to passion when in the arms of her prince (an attentive Jamie Bond). Identically enjoyable is Robert Parker, eyes a-twinkle as the magician Drosselmeyer, with Joseph Caley, Céline Gittens and Laëtitia Lo Sardo also standing out in their various roles.
I’d carp that the grand pas de deux between Bond and Nao Sakuma’s sparkly Sugar Plum Fairy was a touch mechanical on Friday, and that the two comedy Chinese in Act II look old-fashioned at best. Still, if you’re going to see only one Nutcracker this season, make it this one. And, should you be unable to make it to its rightful Midlands home, maybe give it a go when it comes to London’s O2 Centre after Boxing Day. If any version of the tale can survive this hangar of a venue, I suspect it is BRB’s.