DANCE : The Nutcracker New Theatre, Hull

Looking at Scottish Ballet's neat, bright production of The Nutcracker, I could hardly believe that it is 23 years old. And it seems scarcely credible that Philip Prowse's handsome scenery and costumes have had such hard wear that by the end of this run they will be beyond any further patching and mending. His snow scene - white trellis-work against a black sky - deserved its special round of applause, and the women's dresses in the last act are a model of what ballet skirts should be.

So to see a particularly clear, funny and touching version of this favourite ballet, catch it during the present nine-week tour: there will not be another. Peter Darrell, who originally staged it, is best known for his highly dramatic modern works, or for giving the classics an unusual twist. But knowing how important The Nutcracker is in winning over new young audiences, he played this one absolutely straight, telling the traditional story with no gimmicks, and no drastic reinterpretations.

The Christmas party where it all starts is taking place in an especially cosy home, even if the gentlemen (Saint Petersburg style) are all wearing smart green uniforms. Old Drosselmeyer turns up to provide some clever conjuring tricks, and the entertainment he brings is provided by some glamorous gypsies played by the dancers who will later be Nutcracker Prince, Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen, which neatly gives them more rewarding roles.

Once little Clara, over-excited, falls asleep and starts her dream, it is a little surprising to meet a couple of polar bears among the snowflakes, but they are quite an endearing addition and make themselves useful in seeing Clara and her Nutcracker Prince off in a magic sphere to the Sugar Plum Fairy's kingdom. Likewise, the mice who scared Clara earlier make an unexpected comeback in the last scene, to beg forgiveness and receive it with a hug - a nice touch.

Ivanov's classic duet near the end is retained; otherwise, Darrell made all new dances. Especially attractive are the bright, lively English jig he provided for a jolly sailor boy, and the two chattering gossips in the Chinese dance.

The children are a local team in every town visited (Helen Marenghi showed a sweet confidence as Clara in Hull). Several of Scottish Ballet's principals and guest dancers share the main roles; I caught a matinee when some of the younger soloists were making their very respectable debuts in the leads, and was particularly impressed by a recent recruit from Bulgaria, Ivan Dinev: we do not often see such exhilarating solos as his in London nowadays.

Scottish Ballet's Nutcracker tours to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Blackpool until 18 Jan

John Percival

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