The Nutcracker

Northern Ballet Theatre
Choreographed by David Nixon; music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Palace Theatre, Manchester
(2007)

Publicity image - toy soldier

Christmas has come a little early to Manchester with the world première of David Nixon's new production of The Nutcracker from Leeds-based Northern Ballet Theatre.

In the early 1800s, the Edwards family holds a lavish Christmas party in its grand house. Uncle Drosselmeyer (Darren Goldsmith) arrives with a huge box, from which he produces three life-sized dancing dolls and a small nutcracker shaped like a soldier. During the night when young Clara (Pippa Moore) goes to check on the nutcracker beneath the tree, it comes to life and calls up its toy soldier army to save her from the giant mice. It is then magically transformed into a handsome boy (Christopher Hinton-Lewis). After a trip on a magical sleigh through lands of ice and snow and the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keiko Amemori), Clara finds herself asleep back in her father's arms (Steven Wheeler) wondering whether it was all a dream.

With this production, NBT has gone for the biggest popular crowd-pleaser in the classical repertoire and produced a pretty traditional version of Tchaikovsky's festive piece. Charles Cusick Smith's design in the first act could be said to be a little old-fashioned with its painted billowing cloths and hinged flats, but it sets the scene well in the Regency period and very effectively leads the audience from outside the house into the heart of the Christmas party by peeling away layer after layer. Later we get a magical forest with snow falling, a wonderful trip on a magic sleigh with the Earth moving past in the background and a grand land of the Sugar Plum Fairy with an elaborate archway revealing a Chinese-style, three-dimensional backdrop like an altarpiece.

Nixon's production brings a sense of magic to the whole tale, especially through the character of Drosselmeyer, who comes across as a benevolent wizard controlling all the fantasy. The first half seems to go very quickly as there is lots of story to take in and spectacle to view. After the interval, there is a long section of 'greatest hits' in the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where most of the more famous music can be heard accompanying short, standalone dance pieces in lavish national costumes. When the story kicks in again at the end of this, the show ends quite suddenly. The moment when Clara appears in her father's arms as we are transported back to their house is quite magical and is lit beautifully by lighting designer Mark Jonathan.

NBT has created a charming, lovely-looking production that should please family audiences and lovers of traditional ballet and leave everyone feeling all Christmassy.

Philip Seager reviewed this production at the Lyceum, Sheffield

Reviewer: David Chadderton