I’m not sure how I’ve reached my great age and yet I’ve never seen The Nutcracker. Thankfully, last night that was rectified as I was whisked away on a whimsical Christmas adventure with a sugar plum fairy, a dashing Prince and a devious king rat.
Sir Peter Wright’s classic production of this timeless ballet is back at Birmingham Hippodrome, and it couldn’t be more perfectly timed – if ever we needed an escape from the reality, then this is it. The family favourite is a feel-good festive gem from start to finish, filled to the brim with whimsy and enveloped in Tchaikovsky’s evocative score.
For 2022, it’s had a million-pound revamp, which means new costumes and an extensive rebuild of John Macfarlane’s exquisite sets, funded in large part by generous audience support through the Big Give. And they’ve certainly got their money’s worth – it’s a beautifully vibrant treat for your heart and your eyes. At times the sheer majesty of a stage bursting with a traditional Christmas tableau, flowers and stars made the hairs on the back on my neck stand up.
Its story is as well-known as its music. Following a family party on Christmas Eve, Clara (the talented Karla Doorbar) creeps back downstairs at midnight and is whisked into an enchanting winter wonderland of dancing snowflakes and magical Christmas trees. The staging is a feat in itself, as the giant rats pour through the lit fireplace and the Nutcracker springs to life before turning into the handsome Prince (an athletic Mathias Dingman).
While the first act is an undoubted visual feast – the Dance of the Snowflakes in particular – it’s the second act where the audience is completely swept away by the skills of the city’s world-class ballet company. Starting with Clara flying through the clouds, Drosselmeyer introduces her to fantastical new lands, as the King Rat is banished, and she is transformed into the ballerina of her dreams.
Momoko Hirata as the Sugar Plum Fairy was pure joy; the captivating rhythm of the music played beautifully by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy. Nods too to Beatrice Parma, Kit Holder, Javier Rojas as the Spanish Dancers, and Louis Andreasen, Ryan Felix, Callum Findlay-White for the Russian Dance. The Waltz of the Flowers was as magical as I had hoped, finishing with a stunning Grand pas de deux from Hirata and Dingman. The Nutcracker is an absolute Christmas cracker; there can be few productions that capture a feeling quite like it, and it was such a privilege to see Birmingham Royal Ballet accomplish this so effortlessly.