Review: The Nutcracker @ Birmingham Hippodrome

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

This is the big one, the Christmas show of shows. If you’ve never been to the ballet before, in fact especially if you haven’t, give yourself the perfect Yuletide treat by booking to see a production acknowledged by even the cruellest critics to be the best Nutcracker in Britain. I’ve been watching it regularly for the last 14 years and in truth, it never palls.

Its secret is threefold. First this gift to the City of Birmingham by BRB’s first Director Sir Peter Wright scores on special effects which are quite simply unparalleled anywhere else in British theatre and always draw spontaneous applause.

Second its story gives a ravishing vision of Christmas in an opulent pre-revolution Russian household where everyone from grandparents to youngest child meet to celebrate Christmas Eve complete with tree, dancing and  a conjurer’s magic tricks. This is Christmas seen through the eyes of an adult, an irresistibly happy vision of a lost past long swept away.

Thirdly there’s the genius of Tchaikovsky’s score, played here by the superb Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of conductor Barry Wordsworth and featuring choristers from the Junior Academy of Vocal Music from Lichfield’s very own Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffery Skidmore. Here music’s the magic ingredient sweeping us along with Clara on her night-time journey out of childhood, letting us share her terror as she enters the fairy-tale world of war when fearsome mice battle with toy soldiers come alarmingly to life, and making us want to cheer when the Nutcracker doll escapes death to become her handsome Prince.

Here Carol-Anne Millar excelled as Clara, the dreamy child emerging into womanhood, while golden boy Robert Parker has moved convincingly from centre stage into the character role of imperious magician Drosselmeyer.

Like other nineteenth century ballets the second half takes the opportunity to present set piece dances showing off the specialised skills of individual performers. So we get the comic Chinese dance, the voluptuous Arabian sequence plus the explosive Cossack trio, and if there was the occasional first night shaky moment it was more than made up for by the verve of this fresh young cast. Crowning the whole shebang special mention must go to principal dancers Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao and their final Grand pas de deux.

All in all this is the perfect chance to get in touch with your inner child – come on, it is only once a year, after all.

The production runs until December 13 including matinees. For tickets priced from £15 to £30 phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

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