Les Patineurs and Tales of Beatrix Potter

Two one-act ballets choreographed by Frederick Ashton
The Royal Ballet
The Royal Opera House

Les Patineurs production photo

Frederick Ashton’s double bill is for children and very young children at that.

The first skating club was formed in London in the mid-18th century. The first ice rink opened in Baker Street in 1876. Sherlock Holmes was a keen skater. Ice skating has always been popular. In the 20th century you have only to think of the success of Sonja Henie and Torvill and Dean.

The first time I saw Les Patineurs I thought it charming. The second time I thought it very twee. Seeing it again (after a very long absence) I think it ought to be a great deal better than it is.

It looks very pretty in a cheap fin de siècle poster sort of way (nothing wrong with that) but it lacks the wit and vibrant life of the two Renoirs: the father painter and the film-making son. As it is danced here, it’s all quite staid, sexless and dull. Only the upside down splits momentarily hint at the naughty-nineties.

There’s no real fun until Laura Morera’s solo and Steven McRae dazzling fouettés.

Tales of Beatrix Potter may have an appeal for those who were brought up on her books. When the curtain rose on an enormous staircase with huge steps and seemingly tiny, tiny, tiny mice a concerted big "AAHHH!" went up from the adults all around me.

I saw the original film ages ago and remember only that Jeremy Fisher made a big splash. In adapting the film for the stage Anthony Dowell makes the mistake of allowing every scene to go on twice as long as it should. It is a serious mistake which could and should have been corrected long ago.

It would have been better to turn the film into a musical and have the animals not only dance and mime but sing Victorian and Edwardian music hall songs as well.

The scene with the two bad mice smashing plates could do with some more pantomimic/circus knockabout vulgarity. And am I alone in thinking Mr Fox ought to eat Jemima Puddle-Duck? I realize some children might find this a bit too Grimm and some adults might find it a bit too Sondheimish; but that’s country life.

The production’s outstanding features are the designs by Christine Edzard and the animal masks by Rotislav Doboujinsky.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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