The Nutcracker [Northern Ballet] – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Gail Schuster, November 2023
The Nutcracker has become synonymous with the festive season, understandably as it is a secular version of Christmas, starting with family celebrations to which many people can relate, and becomes a young girl’s adventure.
David Nixon’s interpretation is particularly good at telling the story, originally written in 1816 by ETA Hoffman and titled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, but which was later adapted by Alexander Dumas in 1844. It is on that version that the ballet is based.
The magical spectacle starts with preparations for the Edwards’ family’s Christmas and an excited Clara and her teasing brother, Frederic, beautifully danced by Rachael Gillespie and Filippo DiVilio respectively. At the party, we are treated to a glimpse through a doorway of grandma and grandpa Edwards dancing comically, before we witness the exquisite ball happening inside. As so often with family events, an unexpected family member turns up, in this case it is the mysterious, Uncle Drosselmeyer, who arrives with a huge box. Here comes the next comedic moment in this family show; Drosselmeyer produces two French dancing dolls from the curious box, who entertain the children at the party, as well as the audience, and then he gives Clara the eponymous nutcracker doll.
That night a sleepless Clara creeps downstairs and finds herself threatened by pot-bellied mice. Fortunately, her doll comes to life just as the Mouse King reveals his presence and declares war. The Mouse King goads his enemies and amuses the audience with his dance moves, which include flossing and a nod to the popular computer game, Fortnite. Amusing fight scenes and a comical death scene, finish the skirmish, before Drosselmeyer works his magic again and the toy becomes a handsome prince.
In a beautiful finale to the first Act, Clara and her prince are transported to a winter wonderland with shimmering snow maidens swirling across the stage, before being transported on a golden sleigh to the garden of delights.
In the second Act, Clara is introduced to the Sugar Plum Fairy and treated to a colourful panoply of people dancing in her honour; Russian Cossacks, Arabian princes and princess, French ballet dancers and exotic flowers. Those people who have never seen this before may be surprised by how much of the music they recognise in this second half as it has been used in the Simpsons, the Cadbury’s fruit and nut advert from the 1970’s and Fantasia to name a few. There are many highlights, one of which is the beautiful ‘pas de deux’ between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier, magnificently performed by Dominique Larose and Jonathan Hanks. The dancing finishes all too soon for the imaginative Clara and she wakes up in her father’s arms, unsure of whether she has been dreaming.
This production is a real delight, with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, sadly completed only a few days before he died of cholera, being played live by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Martin Giorgiev.
The costumes are stunning throughout. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutu has a deep, rich wine-coloured satin bodice with matching lace, over layers of white net. The bodice is decorated with Swarovski crystals which catch the light and sparkle. The snow maidens’ costumes are layers of white net cut into points, with silver glitter at the bottom and a silver sequined bodice at the top. Drosselmeyer’s billowing cape is perfect for his character, as is the Mouse King’s wobbly belly.
Everything about this production glitters and it has oodles of Yuletide charm. It may be an old favourite and a classic, but it is for a reason and the audience discovered why last night.
‘The Nutcracker’ is at Leeds Grand Theatre until 10th December