The Nutcracker, The Coliseum, London

When a company's in trouble, often the first thing that gets fixed is the corporate graphics. You can see it happening at English National Ballet: the stylish black-and-white photos outside the theatres, the sleekly re-designed programme booklets within. But it makes not a jot of difference to the product. Nothing is going to transform the company's current seasonal offering from gaudy Quality Street into a Chocolate Society hamper. The only solution is to ditch it.

I'm only guessing, but I'd bet a loud cheer went up last week over the Kensington mews where ENB has its base. Not only have the dancers just learnt that they are to feature in next July's Diana-fest (and in their best rep too: the terrific, heart-stopping entry of the 60-plus swans in Derek Deane's Swan Lake). Better still, they can now see an end to their annual sentence touring the Gerald Scarfe Nutcracker. The announcement of a brand new ballet, The Snow Queen, with choreography by Michael Corder and music by Prokofiev (principally his score from the ballet The Stone Flower) may upset some who see 57 unbroken Christmases of ENB Nutcrackers as an imperative to continue the tradition, but for the rest of us, it's a reprieve.

For the time being, though, audiences must make do with minor adjustments to the 2002 Nutcracker dominated by the hyperactive whimsy of a cartoonist. You might wonder how much there can be to go wrong in a ballet more or less prescribed by Tchaikovsky's most inventive score. You stop wondering when you read the dread words "concept by...". Had Gerald Scarfe ever been moved by this music he would not have dreamt of superimposing such vulgar ideas. I don't object to the Marge Simpson wigs and lurid colours so much as the insolence that blocks its ears to a depressed and ageing composer's yearning for lost innocence, and then fills the void with a series of bad jokes and crass caricatures with appeal to neither children nor adults.

The rot sets in early with a messy, confusing scene in which Clara (a brittle, disco creature in a Mary Quant wig) sits down on the pavement to point at an item in the toyshop window. And what the child wants, the child gets - no suggestion of wonder or discovery, or of growing up, or falling in love. All that's left of the original scenario, in fact, is a family party in which generational boundaries are mocked by the nimble enthusiasm of a Zimmer-framed grandpa for his Dolly Partonesque girlfriend. Though the joke was vile, I was grateful to Yat-Sen Chang's grandpa for injecting some gymnastic spark into an act otherwise short on choreographic interest.

Both Scarfe and his choreographer Christopher Hampson fare better on the set pieces. The climactic Snowflakes Dance that sends human frost particles flying from the door of a giant fridge stacked with cans of beer and the world's biggest milk carton is cleverly conceived and properly developed, and most of the divertissements in Act II are fine.

I especially liked the simplicity and vigour of the Russian dance - a solo for a dancing bear whose looped-fabric costume shimmered and shivered as he flung off spectacular virtuoso steps, earning Fernando Bufala the best applause of the evening. Startling too was the long-legged, statuesque Maria Ribo Pares in a Arabian dance that owes so much to Roland Petit's Folies Bergeres version that it ought to be paying him a royalty, but was nicely achieved nonetheless. I loved the moment when the ostrich-fan-bearing lackeys squat down behind them and exit like a row of fluffy ducks. But all those house-points were undone by a dull and stuffy Waltz of the Flowers that left me yawning and longing for the end.

And where does the Sugarplum Fairy fit into all this? By the time she appeared I had given up wondering, since "the concept" seemed to have elbowed so many Nutcracker essentials out of the frame. I can only suppose she and her cohort's purpose was to make up the quotient of classical dance, given the dearth of it elsewhere in this gaudy enterprise. English National Ballet? We could do with rather more of it in your next production, please.

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

London Coliseum, WC2 (0870 145 0200) until 24 Dec

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate