The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has a richly traditional air. Snow lies thick on the steeply-pitched roofs of a German town. Christmas tree fairies gleam with gilding, while the tree itself soars upwards, growing magically to Tchaikovsky’s irresistible score.

The first performance of this revival was set aside for the Paul Hamlyn Christmas Treat, a family performance for people who haven’t been to the Royal Opera House before, with special ticket prices and extra activities. It made for an excited audience, rapt over the transformations and sparkle of Peter Wright’s production.

When Wright created this Nutcracker in 1984, he aimed to go back to Ivanov’s 1892 original, with lovingly-researched designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman. In 1999, he revised the production, tweaking the storytelling and adding more magic tricks for the magician Drosselmeyer. It remains a handsome, confident version, with a perky mouse battle and good old-fashioned stage magic.

Meaghan Grace Hinkis is endearing as the young heroine Clara, whose dream journey takes her through a snowy pine forest to the Land of Sweets. Hinkis is bright and spontaneous in her reactions and her footwork. Gary Avis makes a thoughtful Drosselmeyer, avoiding the camp that can come with this expanded role, and showing a sense of wonder as he conjures up the growing tree or the Land of Sweets. As the Nutcracker, Ricardo Cervera dances and mimes with clean conviction.

At this performance, the divertissement dances had attractive flourish. Melissa Hamilton was sinuous in the Arabian dance, with strong swagger from James Hay, Paul Kay and Cervera in the Russian number. Laura Morera danced the Rose Fairy with bold technique and delicate musical timing, leading a strong group of soloists.

Roberta Marquez is a neat if small-scale Sugar Plum Fairy, her steps precise but short on grandeur. As her cavalier, Steven McRae dances with princely good manners and virtuoso dash.

Koen Kessels conducted a brisk performance of the Tchaikovsky score, though I’d like more depth of sound from the orchestra of the Royal Opera House. As an extra part of the Christmas treat, the curtain stayed up during the interval, so we could watch the scene changes at work. It’s a mix of the workaday and the magical: as the glittering flats from the Kingdom of Sweets fly in, stagehands get on with hoovering up the snow left behind by the snowflake scene.

In repertory until 16 January. Box office 020 7304 4000.