Woking, New Victoria Theatre
4 November 2015
Seeing Northern Ballet’s Nutcracker, my first of the season, is a lot like going to a favourite local trattoria. It’s not incredibly fancy but the base ingredients are rather good – in this case the dancers and orchestra. It certainly did the trick in Woking last week when Northern opened their 2015 run with a full house – roll on shows in Newcastle, Norwich and their long season at home in Leeds.
The David Nixon Nutcracker, created in 2007, is largely traditional if set in Regency England rather than Victorian Germany. The minor twist is that the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, so often confined to the last act classical divertissements, appear in the first act as Louise, beautiful sister to Clara (the young girl at the centre of the plot), and James, Louise’s boyfriend. As an idea it works well I think, better integrating the 2 acts together. Clara’s parents are the Edwards rather then the Stahlbaums and the house feels less ostentatious than in many productions – perhaps English restraint taken too far. And for many the tree and the transformation scene are a big highlight, but in this production not very much is made of either. The fight between the mice and soldiers has its moments, particularly the entrance of the toy soldiers and the cavalry, but overal feels confused and Clara doesn’t stop it all by by bashing the Mouse King over the head with her shoe, as tradition normally has it. Sad also that Drosselmeyer’s role feels rather more humdrum than magical. Overall it doesn’t look like a production that’s trying to wow you with its budget and I hope, if it gets a revamp at some time, that the the Fairy of Wondrousness descends to add more wow and sparkle to the design, plot and choreography.
What does sparkle is the Northern Ballet dancers giving their collective all – the stage is alive with dramatic reality and the corps snowflakes are particularly well drilled. I like the backstory in act one as Clara’s Mother, the hostess with the mostest, keeps falling out with the ill-tempered Grandma (Pippa More – terrific). The mother was Hannah Bateman who was also the lead in the strong Arabian dance with its beguiling tunes. But this is Clara’s story and Rachael Gillespie was suitably endearing, another of Northern’s great actresses. Less convincing was Lucia Solari as her sister and the Sugar Plum Fairy – neither the acting or the technical demands of Sugar Plum seemed to sit easily with the ex-Hamburg Ballet first soloist. Luckily Javier Torres was the Cavalier and he quietly delivers all you could wish for – it was casting at the right level (premier, or principal as most companies would have it). And good to see so many children integrated into the production – courtesy, in Woking, of the local Susan Robinson School of Dance.
Besides the dancers it’s the orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s glorious score that adds the most sparkle to the night. Live and well played under the baton of John Pryce-Jones, it makes everybody happy. Certainly lots of grins in the audience come the end and for some a quick visit to the new trattoria of the high street – McDonald’s!