The Nutcracker, Royal Albert Hall, London, review: 'A sturdy production'

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new version of the classic ballet has a recorded narration by Simon Callow

Zo Anderson
Monday 01 January 2018 21:37
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Jonathan Payn as Drosselmeyer and Karla Doorbar as Clara in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Royal Albert Hall
Jonathan Payn as Drosselmeyer and Karla Doorbar as Clara in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Royal Albert Hall

The bigger the dance, the better it fits the huge space of the Royal Albert Hall. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new version of The Nutcracker is strongest when it fills the stage with dancing. It’s a sturdy production, providing spectacle in dance, music and shiny new projections. It’s in the big numbers, such as the snowflake waltz, that it rises to gorgeousness. Reflected in a mirrored backdrop, the swirling skirts and patterns shimmer and glow, as stage snow falls on the dancers and on the audience.

David Bintley’s new staging is based on the company’s lovely traditional production, which BRB has already performed at Birmingham this Christmas season. Bintley uses Peter Wright’s choreography and John Macfarlane’s splendid (but strangely uncredited) costumes. He simplifies some of the story, adding new special effects for this new setting.

The ballet now opens with a view of the magician Drosselmeyer’s steampunk workshop, with shadows on the window suggesting the preparations inside. A recorded narration, by a heavily accented Simon Callow, introduces the story, and pops up again during the action. There’s either too much of Callow or not enough: his spoken sections feel like an interruption, without really making the ballet more accessible. Philip Ellis conducts a brisk performance of Tchaikovsky’s irresistible score, with some discreet amplification.

The Royal Albert Hall isn’t a good match for the intimacy of the early scenes. The dances of the Christmas party are appealing, but the family feeling is harder to evoke. As the heroine Clara, Karla Doorbar is bright and fleet-footed, reacting to her enchanted journey with suitable wonder.

The transformation scenes, using projections by 59 Productions, now spill out across the whole auditorium. The Christmas tree “grows” up the walls, bristling green branches spreading, while giant baubles descend to hang over the heads of the audience. There’s a good transition to the snow scene, as the pine tree turns into a winter forest under starlit skies. The dances of the second act are now framed as a performance by Drosselmeyer’s magic dolls, with projections showing “his” clockwork and costume designs.

As the Sugar Plum Fairy, Momoko Hirata brings out the delicate detail of her solo, but César Morales is underpowered as her prince. Jonathan Payn is a confident Drosselmeyer. Céline Gittens was a marvellous Rose Fairy, with glowing line and star presence that reaches out to the furthest gallery.

Until 31 December. Box office 020 7589 8212

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