ENB puts its Scarfe on

The cartoonist's costumes and sets give new life to The Nutcracker
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The Independent Culture

"I am known best for my jagged pen-line and my splotchy ink," says the caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, who designed English National Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, first staged in 2002. "You don't get that on stage, but you do see my caricatured costumes - and my sense of fun in it all."

"I am known best for my jagged pen-line and my splotchy ink," says the caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, who designed English National Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, first staged in 2002. "You don't get that on stage, but you do see my caricatured costumes - and my sense of fun in it all."

Scarfe's ferocious satire has appeared for years in the pages of The Sunday Times and The New Yorker. The prolific caricaturist has also created a new animation piece for Cam-eron Mackintosh's Miss Saigon. He also designed Pink Floyd's film The Wall, the Disney cartoon Hercules and Sir Peter Hall's The Magic Flute. His recent book and exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Heroes and Villains, featured his interpretations of famous figures from King Henry VIII to Tracey Emin.

This year's Nutcracker features the company's star couple, the Estonian husband-and- wife team of Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur, who will dance the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince against Scarfe's bold and colourful set. The couple, who fell in love as teenagers, have danced variations on the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux many times.

The choreography is by Christopher Hampson, the former ENB dancer, who has won many awards, including the Laurence Olivier Award for his Double Concerto.

Scarfe's first ballet was a new challenge for him. "They would not have asked me to design The Nutcracker had they wanted something standard," says Scarfe. "The way I approach it is that I want to create an environment of my own. I always do the costumes and the set so that it is my world. I wanted to entertain children. Rather than bore them to death, I thought that I would go straight for colour and fun.

"I knew that the choreographer, Christopher Hampson, who is renowned for his classical ballet, would put the ballet back on course for those ballet lovers who wanted to see what they always see."

Scarfe, who imagines the scenes through a child's eyes, sets The Nutcracker within a book. "I start it with a giant book on stage, and all the characters dance out of it." The characters then play against scenery that looks like the pages of the book.

"When I came to the Snow-flakes, I thought, 'How can I do it in a way that we haven't seen a million times before?' When Clara opens the giant fridge - with giant champagne and lobster inside, and a pack of butter - out spring all these ice-skating Snowflakes, male and female."

The costumes posed some special problems, Scarfe says. "In opera, for example, the singers can't stand anything round their throat, ears or mouth, because that's their instrument. Apart from that, they just stand there and belt it out. You can bung any costume on them.

"With a dancer, you can't do that. Anything on their legs will impede movement, so the costumes must be streamlined."

'The Nutcracker', Coliseum, London WC1 (020-7632 8300; www.ballet.org.uk), tomorrow to 8 January

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