Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Book and lyrics: Nancy Holson
Director: Ollie Fielding
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Tchaikovsky’s TheNutcracker is everywhere each Christmas – in opera houses, on ice and now as a musical on the fringe – but isn’t stripping it of its dance a little bit like performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet without words? When the centrepiece of the second act could be called “walk of the Sugar Plum Fairy” it is hard not to jump to the conclusion that the people behind this show may well be simply nuts.
There is a warm glow of familiarity to being greeted by Eleanor Field’s set, a Victorian Christmas card scene of red velvet curtains, cream fireplace and green tree. The story takes us from the reality of modern family life to the world of a dark ETA Hoffman fairy tale in which the real characters find parallels. As a ballet, this is magical. Glorious music, a full orchestra and visual spectacle overwhelm the plot, but, as a musical, the thin story becomes exposed.
King Wilhelm (Henry Wryley-Birch) has a passion for bacon and, when his favourite dish is eaten by mice, he exterminates them and incurs the wrath of the Mouse Queen, a pantomime villainess with a fondness for scattering curses all around. One such curse is placed upon Princess Pirlipat, newly born to Queen Wanda (Ann Marcus) and only the world’s hardest nut can break it. As an adult, the Princess (Maria Coyne) awaits the arrival of her suitor (Peter Nash), the only man capable of cracking the nut. But the Mouse Queen is not to be thwarted…..
Orchestrators Bruce Keating and Paul Rigano scale down the music, effectively reducing it to a succession of pleasant and very familiar tunes. Nancy Holson’s book and lyrics are self-mocking and director Ollie Fielding throws in regular touches of feigned amateurism (a pigeon flying away dangling from the end of a fishing rod, etc), but the cumulative impression given by all this is of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta being performed in a village hall.
Kris Webb is a warm, avuncular Drosselmier, bearing gifts for the real family and seeking out the nut in the fairy story. The star turn comes from Jamie Birkett, who is merciless in taking the mickey out of the Mouse Queen. Her hilarious death scene is the show’s highlight, as she realises mid-song that she is singing to a tune that actually comes from Swan Lake. Sadly, such flourishes of wit are scattered too thinly.
Choreographer Alejandro Postigo could have been given the brief to avoid any hint of ballet at all costs, but just a little is allowed to creep in late on, making the most of the confined space. In all, this is a warm-hearted production, maybe ill-conceived, but, at this time of year, we rather expect a show to be crackers.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image: Pamela Raith