Review: La Fille mal gardee @ Birmingham Hippodrome

La Fille mal gardee is one of the finest treasures in BRB’s classical repertoire which like a rare flower is allowed to blossom every few years. It’s a ballet in the 18th French century taste set among simple country people who to the pre-revolution aristos had the same decorative value as the landscape and the animals on the farm. Remade by the Royal Ballet’s slyest master Frederick Ashton it becomes a comic Giselle, telling of love’s triumph over hilarious odds.

Lise the gently bred daughter of Widow Simone is the subject of negotiations between her mother and a neighbouring landowner. Sound economic sense says uniting the two farms by marriage is a good idea, but there’s a problem, or rather two problems. Because the farmer’s son Alain is a half-wit who clings to his red umbrella like a toddler and hasn’t a clue about love.

And then there’s Colas, who’s everything that’s virile and who Lise quite naturally prefers. But this rough outline gives no idea of the riches Ashton mines from his material, what with the dancing chickens, the summer fete with its maypole, the exquisite ribbon dances, the spectacular storm and the love interest played out in a series of charming scenes. Oh, and there’s a Shetland pony as well.

Miraculously Nao Sakuma as Lise somehow manages to look as young and dewy as if at the fresh start of her illustrious career yet she is one of the most accomplished and experienced of BRB’s star dancers. Cesar Morales is the perfect mix as young jack the lad Colas, sprightly, powerful and light-hearted with springs in his heels. Mathias Dingman as the idiot son Alain shows off his rare gift for characterisation brilliantly as the plot insists that love will have its way.

Add in witty sets, marvellous lighting, the catchy, lilting score played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Philip Ellis, the miraculous set pieces plus marvellous dancing and you’ve got a perfect evening’s entertainment.

But there’s more, because Michael O’Hare’s Widow Simone is sublime, the comic centre of the show, coy, slightly fussy, ever-watchful of her treasure Lise – she may be from the country, but she’s a woman of the world. And after a sip of cider at the harvest fete her clog dance stops the show.

If you only see one thing this year, see this, theatre at its very best.

La Fille mal gardee runs at the Hippodrome until June 15. For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at