Review: Nutcracker

English National Ballet’s Nutcracker, The Mayflower Theatre until 2nd December


Review by Soraya Scrivener

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is a truly spectacular score. There are three ballet versions this season in London alone. ENB have brought their production to The Mayflower, before heading home to the vast London Coliseum stage. The story is set in Edwardian times and follows Clara who receives a Nutcracker doll at a Christmas Eve party. When the clock strikes midnight their dreamy and somewhat nightmare adventure takes them on a magical journey to a battle with a Mouse King and a land of snow. The second act transports us to various places around the World and a beautiful garden which includes the highly anticipated dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince.

The excitement built-in the brimming auditorium as the scene was set by a beautiful curtain. From the cracking overture to the final waltz, the English National Ballet Philharmonic were on top form, conducted by Gavin Sutherland and led by Matthew Scrivener. I think perhaps there was a lighting fault during Clara’s bedroom scene as I found it difficult to see facial expressions and follow the mime. The skaters in the following scene were a refreshing and amusing concept. The party scene was wonderfully busy, but perhaps the constraints of the size of the stage confused the focus. The students from the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and the English National Ballet School were well rehearsed as party children and later as soldiers and mice.

Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

Wayne Eagling and Toer van Schayk’s concept for this production sadly cannot compete with Sir Peter Wright’s iconic traditional production the Royal Ballet Company perform. Scale and sets are understandably limited when touring but I felt here the narrative was the weakest link. Read the synopsis on ENB’s website before you go and read it again in the stunning programme when you arrive. In short, the young Clara becomes an adult Clara in her dream and later the Sugar Plum Fairy. The nephew turns into the Nutcracker and then the Prince. Another masked Nutcracker pops up every now and again. The choreography at times has odd lifts and random legs kicked high but there is lots to admire. I really enjoyed the snowflakes dance incorporating beautiful lines especially on their lead off.

There were lovely light-hearted moments throughout the evening. Designer Peter Farmer must be commended for the wonderful hot air balloon and the inventive costumes incorporating soldiers atop horses. It was unfortunate that the first act ended abruptly but thankfully the balloon soaring in for the second act was impressive and made up for this.

Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

The second half was an enjoyable showcase for the dancers. The Spanish, Arabian and Russian divertissements were exciting. The Arabian girls were particularly mesmerizing, and the Russian lead displayed spectacular turns and jumps. Alison McWhinney charmed us gracefully in the dance of the Mirlitons. I particularly enjoyed the Waltz of the Flowers. I was pleasantly surprised to see in the programme that this was danced by not only Artists of the company but students from English National Ballet School.

The Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux was as dazzling as the Swarovski crystals on their costumes. Soloist, Aitor Arrieta’s debut as the Nephew/Nutcracker/Prince was superb. He made the Prince’s solo look effortless with impressive leaps and turns. Junior soloist, Rina Kanehara as Clara/the Sugar Plum Fairy was a delight to watch. To finish, the company treated us to a thrilling finale with some beautiful partner work in canon.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

In summary: The Nutcracker music played live never fails to make my spirits soar. This is a ballet to get you in the Christmas mood.

Recommended for age 5+. Only a few remaining single seats left this week at the Mayflower with a variety of casting. More ticket availability at the London Coliseum from 13th December 2017 to 6th January 2018.

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