Review: Two productions of the Nutcracker

Joy Sable gives the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of the Nutcracker 4 stars, whilst the English National Ballet gets 3 stars


The Nutcracker is to the festive season what doughnuts are to Chanukah – you can’t have one without the other. The ballet, with its toy soldiers, menacing rats and pretty snowflakes, is currently on in two of the capital’s venues.

The English National Ballet’s version is at the London Coliseum. Now nearly 10 years old, this production does have some charming moments; the opening scene when guests slip and slide in the snow is particularly lovely and the balloon in which Clara travels to the kingdom of the magical puppet theatre is a clever visual device.

At the performance I saw, Erina Takahashi was a sparking Sugar Plum Fairy (she also played a sweetly innocent Clara in the earlier scenes), deploying her fine technique to pull off all the difficulties of the famous pas de deux with ease.

Francesco Gabriele Frola was a sure and steady partner, and danced his own difficult variation with style. However, the production is starting to look a little tired; the rats in Act II are an irritating addition to the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the narrative is not always as clear as it should be.

Over at the Royal Albert Hall, the Birmingham Royal Ballet is dancing Peter Wright’s acclaimed production.  Most of the major dances are identical, or at least very similar to the version currently danced by the Royal Ballet, but there have been quite a few amendments made specifically to accommodate the ballet on the Royal Albert Hall stage.

This large venue relies on huge film projections either side of the stage, rather than complicated scenery. For some reason, Drosselmeyer has been given a voice (provided by actor Simon Callow), which is totally unnecessary and does not add to the story at all. Perhaps someone thought it would make it easier for children to follow, but it is a very family friendly production and there is no need for explanatory words.

At the performance I watched, Clara was danced by Beatrice Parma: petite, precise and with a lovely jump. Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence shone as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince, and praise too, must go to Max Maslen for his particularly springy Jack-in-the-Box.

The costumes are a delight, especially those for the Mirlitons and the Flowers. Koen Kessels led the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in bringing Tchaikovsky’s magical score to life.

The English National Ballet is at the London Coliseum until 5 January. The Birmingham Royal Ballet is at the Royal Albert Hall until 31 December. 

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