Birmingham Royal Ballet – online
If you are a ballet lover, or even new to ballet then this is a splendid production; if you are an aficionado of BRB’s superb Peter Wright thirty-year-old version, his present to Birmingham for giving the ballet a new home, then you will not be disappointed.
Indeed, Nutcracker regulars at Birmingham Hippodrome have the added bonus of playing spot the difference in an adaptation made necessary to fit on the stage at Birmingham Rep and to shorten it out of necessity for a socially distanced audience – an audience that went by the board as lockdown ended and we went into Tier 3.
We also have a much smaller Royal Ballet Sinfonia, half size or less, under conductor Paul Murphy – their normal full size symphony orchestra would need half a football pitch to be socially distanced – and they did a remarkable job to make Tchaikovsky’s score sound as full and rich as they did, and that wonderful music is as much as star of this ballet as the dancers.
As for the dancers. I first saw Stoke-on-Trent’s Karla Doorbar dancing the role of Clara, the young ballet student in 2014 and she has made the role her own dancing with a mix of teenage innocence and quite sublime footwork – just a delight to watch.
Jonathan Payn is no stranger to the role of Drosselmeyer, the magician, and strides though the production with a typical flamboyant flourish starting with Dr Stahlbaum’s family gathering where he launches into his magic tricks aided by his assistant, Kit Holder, which brings in Tzu-Chao Chou as the Jack-in-the-box, Gus Payne as the Nutcracker doll and Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy doll and we even have Drosselmeyer’s magical repair of the broken Nutcracker doll.
Karla Doorbar who has made the role of Clara her own. Pictures: Johan Persson
With everyone gone to bed Clara creeps downstairs to see her Nutcracker doll but midnight brings out the rats, led by their king, Alexander Yap, defeated by the now life size Nutcracker who transforms into the wonderful César Morales as the Prince who takes Clara to the Land of Snow, the realm of the Snow Fairy, Alys Shee, with her four attendants, four winds and snowflakes.
The second act takes us to a world of wonder conjured up by Drosselmeyer with dancers from around the world which gives us the Spanish Dance, with Beatrice Parma, Gabriel Anderson and Kit Holder, the sexy and sultry Arabian Dance with Eilis Small, Haoliang Feng, Callum Findlay-White and Alexander Yap, then the amusing Chinese Dance from Max Maslen and Tzu-Chao Chou.
Cossack dancers inspire the Russian Dance with Ryan Felix, Gus Payne and Shuailun Wu while we also have the Mirlitons danced by Rosanna Ely, Miki Mizutani, Emma Price and Lynsey Sutherland.
Mirlitons are a bit of a mystery as they could be a sort of toy instrument, a cross between a kazoo and a flute or a sweet. Who knows . . . apart from Tchaikovsky of course – here it is merely a dance.
And finally, the Prince joins the Sugar Plum Fairy, Momoko’s doll coming to life, to dance the lovely pas de deux. The pair do dance beautifully together, Morales making everything look so effortless and natural and Momoko dancing with exquisite delicate steps.
The dance ends with the Sugar Plum Fairy becoming Clara, falling asleep in the Prince’s arms only to wake underneath the family Christmas tree with her Nutcracker doll wondering if it has all been a dream.
César Morales as The Prince and Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy
Both the Hippodrome and Rep have vast stages but with no proscenium and different flies some changes were necessary, the most notable being the loss of magnificent transformation scene with the growing Christmas tree and fireplace and Clara’s journey on the flying swan along with much of the magnificent scenery of John Macfarlane.
Sir David Bintley had made the changes necessary for the ballet’s appearance at the O2 arena a decade ago and more recently the Royal Albert Hall – both without a proscenium – and the former director has returned to adapt the ballet once more, this time to the Rep’s stage, with new director Carlos Acosta adding his own input.
Editing to bring down the time, done to reduce the time the now missing audience would have had to spend in the theatre - means that some dances have been lost – again, like the scenery, only noticed by those who know the production well – including the transformation of ballet student Clara into the Sugar Plum Fairy, every little girl’s dream of the perfect ballerina.
But there have been additions such as a snowball fight opening with a Christmas tree on a sleigh to set the scene and presents handed out in fine boxes, with Fritz, Clara’s little brother, and usually a real pain, being given a king rat doll as a present, to add to the story, as he tries to fight Clara’s Nutcracker doll with his own.
For many people BRB’s Nutcracker is as much part of Christmas as mince pies and turkey, and, although the magic of live theatre might be missing, and there are moments when the lack of appreciative applause leaves an eerie silence, watching online does give you shots and close-ups you could never see even in the posh seats at the Hippodrome. All in all it is cracking value at £15 for front row seats for an entire family.
The production is dedicated to Marion Tait who steps down at the end of the year as assistant director after 52 years with BRB and its former self, the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, and she talks about Nutcracker and the ballet in an interval interview section which also includes Robert Parker, once a BRB favourite and now artistic director of Elmhurst Ballet School talking about his young charges in the online production.
Personally, the interval section might have sat more easily at the beginning as an introduction, but perhaps that is just me.
As a reviewer Nutcracker has been part of my Christmas for years and although this is not the magical version we have come to know at the Hippodrome it is still The Nutcracker and it is still a splendid performance and a chance to escape from the desolation around us for a while - and at £15, it’s a festive bargain.
BOOK HERE - Booking closes at midnight on Monday 21 December and performances can be watched for three days after first clicking view up to midnight on Christmas Eve.