Review: Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Royal Ballet's Nutcracker

Musical suites and magical sweets

With musical suites and magical sweets, Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is a festive feast for all tastes: Tchaikovsky’s score is rich with wonder and originality, a Christmas tree magically grows tall and mighty, and snowflakes fall and flurry in an fairytale forest. Yet, the true gift of the Royal’s Nutcracker is that it’s performed with all the warmth and wit found in a drop of whiskey – a necessary ingredient to deepen the flavour of any Christmas cracker.

The sugary sweetness from the Royal Ballet School children at the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve bash is brought back from the brink of saccharine by the Royal Ballet’s believable and oft-overlooked character artists, with Elizabeth McGorian and Christopher Saunders as the idealised Edwardian hosts and Kristen McNally making a delicious meal out of the dancing mistress. As Drosselmeyer, the magician desperate to free his Nutcracker nephew from the Mouse King, Gary Avis is the cream that melts all the magic together, introducing his mechanical dolls – with Paul Kay and Meaghan Grace Hinkis’s darting soldiers a delight for children and adults alike – with a flourish of that magnificent cloak.

After beating the initial ingredients up into a great big battle, the Nutcracker cracks into a charming Alexander Campbell, who takes his Clara, a glowing Francesca Hayward, by the hand, and, under a flouring of Snowflakes – a genuine feat of grace and grit and geometry – whisks her off to a faraway land in celebration.

Act II is a celebration of balletic expertise and exotic tastes, from the limber arabesques of Melissa Hamilton’s Arabian, to Leo Dixon and Calvin Richardson’s chocolate-box-cute bouncing as two Chinese Tea twins, to the cinnamon spice of Tristan Dyer and Paul Kay in the rollicking Russian dance. And, Clara and her Nutcracker are in the midst of the magic, mixing with the Mirlitons and kicking it with the cossacks.

Glittering from their crowns down, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae are gorgeously dressed in Julia Trevelyan Oman’s glorious designs, and their grande pas de deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince is a dazzling decoration. Deliciously delicate in Lamb’s développés à la seconde, blossoming with McRae’s princely support, delightful in the beautifully-jumped grande jetés, and, even with Lamb’s gruelling gargouillades losing a little froth in their final diagonal, the pairing are the icing on an already delectable cake.

The Royal Ballet’s production has a framing device that adds some much-needed depth to the plot of this perennial Christmas classic, and with Avis’s fine theatrical performance and Tchaikovsky’s magical music, it underscores the family feel of the Nutcracker and closes the evening on a beautifully bittersweet taste.

Live cinema relay from the Royal Opera House; 5th December 2017; cast: Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae, Francesca Hayward, Alexander Campbell & Gary Avis; picture: Karolina Kuras, with link to source; The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker

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