Review: La Fille Mal Gardee

Simon Hale enjoys the latest from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Birmingham Royal Ballet has reaped a rich harvest of humour and tenderness from its bucolic production of La Fille Mal Gardée at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Frederick Ashton’s simple story of a 19th century country girl whose love for a young farmer is hindered every step of the way by a finger-wagging widowed mother is family entertainment par excellence.

The ballet has all the ingredients for a fun-filled farmyard show including dancers dressed as chickens, a real-life pony and trap, villagers celebrating harvest round the maypole, and a panto-like dame.

Michael O’Hare plays the Widow Simone in true slapstick fashion as she attempts to divert the attention of her daughter from a handsome young farmer to a simpleton with a much wealthier father. Mathias Dingman is all charm and athletic physique as the lover Colas who captivates the young farm girl and conspires with her to make fun of Simone and the bumbling suitor Alain (James Barton) whose greatest attachment is to his red umbrella.

Momoko Hirata is outstanding as Lise, at times cunning and mischievous and at other stages loving and tender with the technique and flair to encompass all aspects of her character. She and Dingman are a perfect pairing, both in their emotional chemistry and in their superb coordination shown most markedly in the great ribbon dancing scenes that provide an ongoing theme.

But it is the dance veteran O’Hare, bustling in curly wig and bloomers, who steals the show with a memorable clog dance that even includes a long slide across the stage. Like the other dancers, Widow Simone comes with her own musical motif which in her case is so catchy that you cannot help humming it all the way home.

Indeed the score by John Lanchbery. based on arrangements from versions of the ballet dating back to the original in 1789 and performed splendidly by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, is a sparkling accompaniment to a wonderful show.

La Fille Mal Gardée is in production at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 29th September.