Review: The Nutcracker

Simon Hale is entranced by the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s traditonal Christmas opener.

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome


It may be 26 years since Sir Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker was first performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet but it has lost none of its festive magic.
As the curtain rises on a Christmas Eve in a Victorian household, there is excitement in the air as the tree is being lit and adults and children alike are looking forward to dancing, entertainment and presents.

The entertainment comes courtesy of the mysterious Drosselmeyer (danced by Jonathan Payn) who performs a range of tricks involving toy characters before giving out Christmas presents to the children.

Clara (Karla Doorbar), the daughter of the house, receives a Nutcracker doll from the magician who then takes her on a fantastical journey as the clock strikes midnight.
In one of the most thrilling transformation scenes in ballet, the Christmas tree starts to grow and a fire place turns into a castle entrance from which an army of giant rats emerge and attack Clara. Fortunately the Nutcracker rises and summons the toy soldiers from under the tree to fight them off and then, revived from near death as a Prince, sends Clara to the Land of Snow on the back of a swan.

As the snowflakes fall, the Snow Fairy (Samara Downs) dances with her attendants in their all-white tutus in a spellbindingly beautiful sequence that explains why all young girls want to be ballerinas.

Clara is taken further into the Prince’s realm where she encounters other cultures in a series of divertissements, with James Barton, Alexander Bird and Max Maslen putting on an especially bravura performance as Russian dancers and Céline Gittens leading an entrancing Arabian dance. But the highlight of the show’s opening night was the grand pas de deux danced exquisitely by the perfectly matched Joseph Caley as the Prince and Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

With the luscious and evocative Tchaikovsky score played by the ever-reliable Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Australian guest conductor Nicolette Fraillon, the evening was a perfect delight.

The opening night was also special as Sir Peter Wright chose to spend his 90th birthday in the audience watching the show that he dedicated to Birmingham when the company moved from London. He described the performance of his production as “the most sensational I have ever seen,” after BRB Director David Bintley welcomed the ballet legend on to the stage at the final curtain call. “The dancers brought everything to life in such a short space of time, John Macfarlane’s sets still glitter as they did 26 years ago, and the sound was sensational. Thank you to everyone.”

After a standing ovation that included the audience singing happy birthday to the accompaniment of the sinfonia, David Bintley voiced what everyone must have been thinking: “Christmas has officially begun”.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker continues at Birmingham Hippodrome until December 13th. Details can be found here

Pics – Bill Cooper