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Over the last few years La Fille mal gardee has become one of the brightest jewels in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s crown.
Based on an eighteenth century ballet it has an aristocratic view of peasant life in which human labour and leisure have the same decorative value as animals in the overall scene. But Ashton’s sly updating results in a comic masterpiece at once moving, charming, human and very, very funny.
Briefly, the Widow Simone has plans to marry her daughter Lise to Alain, son of a prosperous neighbouring farmer. But Mother Nature has other plans in the shape of young Colas who is already in love with her. Our sympathies are all with Lise when we see that Alain is virtually a drooling idiot inseparable from his silly red umbrella while Colas is a fit and resourceful young chap.
Right from the farmyard opening where a rooster rouses his dancing hens this show is a feast of ever-changing delights that makes you glad to be alive. Nao Sakuma is perfect as the home-grown beauty Lise who knows her own mind while Iain Mackay as her robust lover Colas has never danced or acted better, looking every inch the eager lover.
Robert Gravenor managed to steal the final laugh as the idiot suitor, but special mention must go to David Morse as the Widow Simone. Already well-known to BRB audiences as a great character actor, his performance here in one of ballet’s greatest comic roles is a triumph. In fact, without the cast list’s assurance that it actually was him it would have been easy to believe Mr. Morse really was a tough countrywoman who had once been young herself.
Add in Ashton’s witty ribbon dances that culminate in the mesmerising maypole scene, the storm that ends Act Two, the fluffiest Shetland pony of all time and the general level of happy fun infusing this whole production and you can see why it had the first night audience clapping along by the end.
La Fille mal gardee runs until March 5. For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.brb.org.uk.
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