‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;…
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
– From A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement Clarke Moore
The Nutcracker was first staged in 1892, choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; this production was premiered in December 1973, choreographed by the founder of Scottish Ballet Peter Darrell, who focused on narrating the fairytale through the eyes of lead character Clara with imaginative vision. Christopher Hampson has now revamped this Christmas classic afresh with sumptuous, sparkling style.
A flurry of snowflakes sets a Dickensian winter scene as a young boy tries to peek through the window of a grand house where Colonel Stahlbaum and family are hosting a Christmas Eve party. The door opens and elegant guests are welcomed into an ornate drawing room with chandelier, velvet drapes and a tall candle-lit Tree. As champagne is sipped, the girls and boys are happy to show off their neat dance routine.
Presents are formally given to the children and Clara is thrilled with her red Nutcracker Doll skipping with glee while her brother Fritz and the boys run around noisily.
The arrival of Drosselmeyer the magician is inspired casting as Madeline Squire in top hat her blue silk cloak, swirled with glamorous theatricality.
She entertains the guests (and us!) with a flurry of colourful handkerchiefs in fast-fingered tricks. As the party comes to a close, the guests bid farewell and it’s bedtime for Clara and Fritz. At the bewitching hour, Clara, now in her nightdress, sneaks downstairs to find her Nutcracker and falls asleep clutching her new toy.
Clara’s dream is dramatised on stage as she ‘awakes’ to find her Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome red-coated Prince and together they help an army of toy soldiers fight off the nasty King Rat. A mischief of cute wee mice (brilliantly played by children) with big eyes and long twitching tails, scamper about with cheese, apple cores and Quality Street sweets.
We follow Clara and the Prince on a fantasy journey by sleigh to the Land of Ice and Snow where a dome of arches depicts a cathedral of glistening frost; this is the world of the sparkling Snow Queen and her attendants, a flutter of Fairies and Snowflakes, who slide and glide like skaters. Like a snow globe come to life, this is a glorious winter landscape where the synchronicity of each en pointe step blends seamlessly to every flowing note of music.
Act II opens to a glittering backdrop of 4,500 decorative baubles in the Land of Sweets, the Realm of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Chocolate and candy delicacies from Europe, Arabia, Russia and China are presented as national dances, with exuberant harlequin jesters and clowns galore.
A few subtle changes to costumes and choreography have removed stereotypical, racist caricatures. The French Dance by a dazzling trio – pink permed hair and mauve cocktail dresses – wittily rocks a fashionable ‘Fifties mode.
The Grand Pas de Deux for the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Tchaikovsky’s Adagio begins with a soulful cello melody complementing each pirouette and breath-taking lift with poise, precision and romantic frisson.
On first night, nine year old Caoimhe Fisher as Clara is a sparkling star oozing such confidence, immersed in the adventure with a wide eyed sense of wonder. The ensemble of eight children (from a team of forty young Scottish Ballet Associates on tour), almost steal the show, acting so naturally with charming, cheeky characterisation.
Lez Brotherston’s superb designs encapsulate Clara’s dream of a journey through a spectacular winter wonderland and fairy tale fantasy. Dramatic, playful choreography, fabulous costumes, toy story dolls, mice, monkeys and soldiers come to life, all create a sparkling theatrical treat. Like a fizzing flute of Moët for adults and a box of sweets for young ones, The Nutcracker captures the joyful happiness of being a child at Christmas time – a majestic and magical ballet for all ages.
Tour dates: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 1st – 31st December; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 5th – 15th January, 2022; His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 19th – 22nd January; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 26th – 29th January; Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 2nd – 5th February; Grand Opera House, Belfast, 9th – 12th February.
With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review. All images by Andy Ross.