It’s ages since I saw Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker, which is a shame because as I confirmed last week in Inverness it’s effortlessly one of the best told Nuts I’ve ever seen. And its secret? Just telling the story in a straightforward way without weird complications or strange additions.
For this Nutcracker less is most definitely more as we follow Clara and her young girl’s Christmas – the family party and her vivid bedtime dreams around her Nutcracker present. We get a larky fight with mice and King Rat and a trip to magical lands of snow (with Snow Queen) and sweets (with Sugar Plum Fairy), all orchestrated by the kindly and mysterious magician, Drosselmeyer.
Peter Darrell, Scottish Ballet’s founding director, created this classic way back in 1972 and after it seemed lost Christopher Hampson (the current director) brought it back, in 2014, with some edits and importantly in new Lez Brotherston designs that pick up on its wit, joy and wonder. And impressed I was at the December 2014 premiere. But in these naturally questioning times this latest incarnation of the Darrell Nut responds to racist concerns around the national dances in the Land of Sweets section. No ancient and ultimately wrong stereotypes here with new designs and choreography for the Chinese and Arabian dances. And for good measure the magician Drosselmeyer is played by a female dancer in some performances, because we live in a modern world and there is nothing inherently male in the role. For those who worry about tampering with tradition, you shouldn’t – there is nothing heavy handed in the changes here and it’s just as magical. Period.
If the story and choreography is joyously clear, the designs of Lez Brotherston add their own magic by always concentrating the action on centre stage. Although for touring in large theatres it has the intimate feel of a chamber production and that really draws you in further. The costumes are sumptuous but I just have to give a special mention for the three bonkers Russian clowns outfits – they make me smile and came to vivid life with the dancing of Jamie Reid, Eado Turgeman and Simon Schilgen. I also liked young Ava-Lily Reid’s Clara, with all its naturalness and innocence. It’s a production featuring many children and charming impish naturalness was the hallmark generally. These are real kids who can dance, not overly coached to some strained perfection.
Our Drosselmeyer was Christopher Harrison giving a fine and believable performance – a great character dancer, it turns out. Evan Loudon’s Nutcracker Prince is every young girl’s and balletomane’s view of a perfect prince, with honed technical perfection, magnificent jumps and an engaging manner. And I warmed to Grace Horler’s Snow Queen, glowing and regal, her pas de deux with Loudon was beautifully accomplished. Paris-trained Marge Hendrick’s Sugar Plum Fairy was warmly regal too, but there was also steely sharpness in her technique – quite breathtaking. This Nutcracker carries the subtitle “A magical family adventure” and Scottish Ballet across the board deliver on that – it’s certainly a production worth going out of your way to see.
The SB Nutcracker tours to the Newcastle Theatre Royal, 2-5 February 2022, and the Belfast Grand Opera House, 9-12 February 2022.