(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 24 November)
Productions of The Nutcracker cam be a little like a fancy bun – when you’ve savoured the fondant icing and the glacé cherries, you’r3 left with what can be a boring sponge cake; lots of action followed by a formality of divertissements. Northern Ballet with David Nixon’s staging avoids most of the traps.
There’s a lot going on in the first act, some of it being quite unusual in its emphases. The transition to the snow fairyland and thence to the second act and its array of set-piece dances is less fractured than can be the case through having Clara (Rachael Gillespie), dancing on full point, and her Nutcracker Prince (Ashley Dixon) as young people just awakening to romantic love. Sister Louise (Lucia Solari) and her suitor James (Javier Torres) are just that bit older and more sexually aware.
We’re in late Regency London at the house of Mr and Mrs Edwards (Sean Bates and Hannah Bateman). Also in residence are his doddery parents (Pippa Moore and Filippo DiVilio). When Uncle Drossmeyer (Matthew Topliss) arrives, he is a much younger, more flamboyant character than we’re accustomed to seeing – nearer to a stage magician than a sinister neighbour. Clara and Louise’s obstreperous brother Frederick (Matthew Koon) and his school-friends have a distinct ability to wreck any would-be polite social gathering.
Out of an elaborate oversized box Drossmeyer produces his French dolls (straight from the Sevrès factory) and a loose-limbed lanky Chinese one, like a stringless puppet in Sebastian Loe’s performance. The Mouse King looms out of an enormous hole in the skirting-board, far more fully realised in Isaac Lee-Baker’s characterisation as a full-blown villain, one of the “enter stage left” variety. Solari and Torres are the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, both showing controlled footwork as well as a partnership affinity in the lifts and jumps.
Nixon’s choreography blends the familiarly classical with neat demi-charactère sequences which show off his young dancers’ strengths as well as having audience appeal. Set designer Charles Cusick Smith blends the realistic with the disproportionate characteristic of dream locations. John Pryce-Jones conducts the Northern Ballet Sinfonia with respect to Tchaikovsky’s score (the orchestral reduction is by John Longstaff) and sympathy for the dancers.
The Nutcracker (casts may differ) is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 28 November.