The Nutcracker

Joe Bunce
Paperfinch Theatre and Theatr Clwyd
Theatr Clwyd
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Advance publicity described this new interpretation of The Nutcracker story as “a remarkable adventure to set the imagination free” and they are certainly not wrong.

This innovative production by the Paperfinch company, also involving twenty actors from the local community, is an immersive experience that involves a tour of the backstage area of Theatr Clwyd and a search for the lost innocence of childhood.

Writer Joe Bunce said in preview that the original Nutcracker by E T A Hoffman was “a love letter to the power of creativity and imagination and the importance of childhood, which Hoffman thought was being lost in the new industrial era”. He is as good as his word as this as the story unfolds in the most unpredictable fashion, just like a child’s imagination.

The experience begins deep in the warren-like backstage area where ice rink owners (yes, there really is one) the Silvertree family are celebrating Christmas. Billy, the youngest child, no longer speaks, and that is hardly surprising having met his parents. He appears a sensitive soul, happier with toys and escaping into his imagination as a defence against the reality he endures. “Know what creativity gives you Billy?” they sneer. “Nightmares, that’s what”.

When I say met, you will actually meet the parents as they introduce themselves to you and everyone else in a suitably chaotic start to the performance. I also had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor of Mold, possibly. In fact, for the first few minutes of the performance, the only thing I was certain of was the location of the fire escape. I think. There was glorious uncertainty as members of the audience started eyeing each other in an attempt to discern who was ‘in role’ and who was a spectator. It was superb.

However, the entrance of Billy’s Uncle Roy, sensitively played by Josh Sneesby, sees the story start to unfold and we are, quite literally, off and running. Sneesby is something of a gentle Pied Piper as he leads the children (young and old) through the backstage areas to the different locations.

All the way, as more and more opportunities to get involved appear, you can almost see the children’s eyes grow wider with the excitement of what they are experiencing. It’s important to emphasise the experiencing aspect as the audience are part of the performance in a way rarely seen as we all become figments of Billy’s imagination.

Inside Billy’s brain, we meet a marvellous, Doc Martin-wearing Sugar Plum Fairy and from there, depending on the path you take, a host of characters including a robot, a badger, a spider, an astronaut and a tiger in the bath.

This production of The Nutcracker is an immersive experience that is highly recommended. It is a crazy, slightly hazy, slice of Christmas magic that celebrates imagination and the true joy of childhood.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings