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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor