Sunday, July 14

Northern Ballet: Merlin – Hull New Theatre

I wonder if professional ballet dancers, after a performance, head straight for the Voltarol to rub on to their aching limbs.

Well, after watching the ballet Merlin, on Wednesday night, at Hull New Theatre, I really felt I, too, would be heading for the Voltarol, to rub onto my aching arms – so vigorously had I applauded.

Luckily for me, pain relief wasn’t needed, but my goodness, the Northern Ballet company has really gone to town with this production.

A read through the programme informs us Merlin brings together a creative team working with Northern Ballet for the first time. And, with no disrespect to any of the company’s other productions, this new input really has worked its magic.

The story of the mythical wizard is told in such a way, I didn’t know what to concentrate on first. The costumes were some of the best I have ever seen on any stage – my favourites being the mustard-coloured tunics, pleated and lined with gold that caught the light, glinting with every twist and turn.

The stage setting and lighting? Spectacular. Special effects and puppetry? Magical (it’s Merlin, what else?). The rousing orchestration, performed live by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, under the musical direction of Jonathan Lo, played such an important part in proceedings, yet somehow didn’t overshadow events on stage.

Oh, then there was the actual ballet dancing. Here I have to confess, despite having seen hundreds of ballet performances, and to my great shame, I am still not au fait with ballet steps. In my untrained eyes, they “twizzle” and “twirl” – and I am in awe at every single move.

The dancers in this production were utterly amazing; outrageously talented, graceful yet strong. Simply mesmeric.

The story tells of the young Merlin’s birth, when two Gods unite, creating an orb that falls to earth, enclosing the baby magician.

A young blacksmith finds him and raises him as her own.

Obviously, no ordinary youngster, Merlin has to keep his magical talents hidden and, being part of two kingdoms – human and godly – his journey takes him into the army, where he is military trained in Camelot.

Before he journeys to Camelot, the Blacksmith presents him with a magnificent sword, Excalibur, but at one stage Merlin uses it in anger, leaving carnage in his wake.

The young man is torn between two worlds and endures imprisonment, emotional weakness and, worst of all, loss of his powers before he has the most difficult decision of his life to make – join his parents in their kingdom or stay in his earthly world with the Blacksmith who has raised him.

Whenever ballet comes to the city of Hull, the Hull New Theatre is always packed to the rafters. But on Wednesday night there were quite a few empty seats, probably because the famous Hull Fair, in full flow in the city, had been the choice of many theatregoers.

Well, if it was a choice between the waltzers and the wizard, I’d choose the wizard every time.

And by the standing ovation Merlin received, I wasn’t alone in choosing him.

Reviewer: Jackie Foottit

Reviewed: 13th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

Merlin from Northern Ballet – A ballet by Drew McOnie

Runs up to Saturday, October 16th, 2021, nightly at 7.30pm with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday, October 14th and Saturday, October 16th. Tickets cost from £9; call (01482) 300306 or visit

Artistic director: David Nixon OBE

Choreography and direction: Drew McOnie

Music by Grant Olding

Set and costume design: Colin Richmond

Lighting design: Anna Watson

Illusions: Chris Fisher

Design and direction of puppetry: Rachael Canning

* May contain periods of flashing and strobe light effects