Thursday, May 30

Matthew Bourne’s The Nutcracker – Birmingham Hippodrome

It may be February, but it is never too late to catch this superb production of The Nutcracker.

First of all, take everything you know about The Nutcracker, screw it up and throw it out of the window. This ballet is like no other version you have seen before. Matthew Bourne has taken the family favourite (and the version he first created 30 years ago) and given it a very colourful make over.

The basic story of Clara and her toy is there, but it opens in an orphanage rather than a lavish house. She is still transported away to a fantasy world of ice and then sweets, but the national dances have been replaced by ones representing confectionery. Unlike the usual version there is a story being told throughout, the second half has more of a purpose than just a showcase for different styles of dance.

One thing that hasn’t been changed is the music, this is still the original score by Tchaikovsky. A surprise to many will be that the music isn’t live, it is a recording by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. You couldn’t tell, it filled the room and the timing of the action on stage with the music was perfect.

Right from the start the company connects with the audience and holds them in the palm of their hand. The way they can convey so much with only their bodies and faces is incredible, you understand the personalities of each character almost instantly. The choreography and dancing are sublime and fits with the mood of the music ranging from stiff and restricted in the orphanage to the beautiful romantic duets (Ashley Shaw, Harrison Dowzell and Cordelia Braithwaite).  I could list every wonderful performance and part of the show, but this would become an essay. There are moments that standout even through the brilliance of the whole piece, Cordelia Braithwaite’s endearing Clara, the entrance of the male dancers before the lake, the flexibility and constant smile of The Knickerbocker Glory (Ben Brown) and the giant cake adorned with dancers reminiscent of movie musicals of old to name just a few. Another thing that strikes you is the energy and joy that the cast exude throughout, they obviously enjoy the steps they are dancing, and that joy is infectious. This ballet has everything you could ask for, drama, romance, humour and spectacle.

It is impossible not to mention the sets and costumes designed by Anthony Ward, these have all been reimagined since the first time this ballet was performed 30 years ago. There is not a traditional tutu in sight, instead we have Humbugs and liquorice all sorts and cartoon style royalty. Finishing the visual feast are the sets that go from grey and austere, through crisp winters day to surreal pink and the largest cake you have seen on a stage.

There may be some purists who won’t find this adaptation to their taste. On the other hand, there will be those who don’t “get” traditional ballets that will thoroughly enjoy this humorous and visually stunning show. As the audience filed out you could see their smiles under the masks and hear the words “Amazing” “Fantastic” and “Wonderful” over and over. Matthew Bourne’s The Nutcracker leaves you buzzing on a pink sugar high. Do whatever you can to get a ticket to this pure delight.

Matthew Bourne’s The Nutcracker runs until Saturday 12th February 2022 at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Reviewer: Annette Nuttall

Reviewed: 8th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★