Birmingham Hippodrome – until 3 December 2023
Reviewed by Louise Ford
The Nutcracker must be the quintessential Christmas story and this year’s production at the Birmingham Hippodrome is top class. Birmingham Royal Ballet has been producing this delightful ballet for over 30 years. This year’s choreography is by Peter Wright, Lev Ivanov and Vincent Redmon.
Tchaikovsky’s glorious score is faithfully performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the expert baton of Thomas Jung.
The set designs are by John Macfarlane and are magnificent. The opening scene is in the Nuremberg’s home on Christmas Eve. The snow is falling outside and the household are putting the finishing touches to the Christmas tree. Dr Stahlbaum (Jonathan Payn) and his wife (Dalia Stanciulescu) are waiting with their children for their guests to arrive. The butlers and staff are on hand to take the guests’ coats and Christmas gifts. The gifts are added to the impressive pile under the equally impressive Christmas tree.
The set is rich and opulent with deep red and black walls and drapes. The guests and hosts are in their finery. In contrast the children (and their friends) are dressed in pale cream and sailor suits.
Mrs Stahlbaum has invited a magician Drosselmeyer (Rory Mackay) to entertain the party. As well as bringing presents for the children (including the eponymous Nutcracker doll for Clara) Drosselmeyer and his assistant (Gus Payne) perform magic tricks and introduce some dancing toys, Harlequin (Shuailun Wu) and Columbine (Rachele Pizzillo) and my favourite the Jack -in-the-Box . This role is performed by Eric Pinto Cata, with such energy and bounce. His costume is an absolute delight.
The role of Clara is played by Beatrice Parma who is light and delicate and dances effortlessly. She is after all a ballet student and wants to be a ballerina like her mother.
The party comes to an end, all the guests leave and the family goes up the magnificent staircase to bed. As midnight strikes Clara, unable to sleep, creeps downstairs, and the scene magically transforms, Clara shrinks to the size of a mouse and the Christmas tree grows and the fireplace erupts into a fiery inferno. Out of this blazing hole an army of rats emerge. The whole scene is orchestrated by Drosselmeyer. The magic continues and the Nutcracker (Gus Payne) and the toy soldiers come to life to fight the rats. There’s an epic fight scene between the Nutcracker and the King Rat (Callum Findlay-White). The rats are animated and elegantly clad, bouncing all over the stage. When it looks as though the Nutcracker maybe defeated Clara steps in and strikes King Rat. Unfortunately the Nutcracker is seriously wounded and falls to the floor, seemingly lifeless . Fortunately Drosselmeyer is on hand to perform another magic trick and the Nutcracker is revived as The Prince (Mathias Dingman). The stage is magically transformed into a winter wonderland,the Land of Snow. This wintry land is presided over by The Snow Fairy(Yu Kurihara) and her attendants. They perform the snowflake dance with lightness and joy. The curtain falls on the first act and the audience are spellbound as the snow flakes fall.
The second act opens to an impressive night time starry sky into which Clara magically flies. This is then transformed into a cosmic scene with pillars, red poppies and Chinese symbols. Poppies we all know are a symbol of remembrance however in this case I think that they are a symbol of romantic love.
This frame is the backdrop for the confectionery of dances that makes the Nutcracker so memorable. All those tunes that are instantly recognisable. The vignettes from across the world, from Spain, to Arabia,to China and Russia are faithfully danced each with its own character and charm. Yaoqian Shang as the Arabian Princess is wonderfully aloof and performs some impressive leaps.
From the land of sweets we move on to the world of flowers with the Waltz of the Flowers performed by the Rose Fairy (Miki Mizutant) and her attendants. The finale with a breathtaking pas de deux performed by Momoko Hirate (as the Sugar Plum fairy) and Mathias Dingman.
All of these dances are orchestrated by Drosselmeyer for Clara’s entertainment and she watches from the sidelines with awe and occasionally she gets to join in and perform. Her dreams come true and she becomes the Sugar Plum fairy.
But all good things must come to an end and the magic fades and Clara awakes. So was it an adventure or simply a dream?