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.

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

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas