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Review: Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker at Theatre Royal Newcastle

New sets and costumes make Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker a fantastic looking production

****
Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker
Scottish Ballet's The Nutcracker

A Christmas ballet in February might seem like the gift you forgot to open but it would be churlish to complain about the timing.

The premiere of this new production took place in Edinburgh in December and it arrives here – the only English venue – at the tail end of the tour.

It is a new production up to a point but it is also a ‘re-imagining’ by Christopher Hampson, artistic director of Scottish Ballet, of a hugely popular production by his predecessor, Peter Darrell, the company’s late founding director.

It made a seasonal appearance for many years until the sets and costumes became faded and it was laid to rest.

Now it is back with the same choreography but new sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston (best known for his collaborations with Matthew Bourne) and it looks sumptuous, its deep and rich colour palette redolent of a well-heeled Victorian drawing room.

Which, of course, is precisely where Act One is set as a family gathers on Christmas Eve and children scamper round happily with their gifts.

Into their midst comes the magician, Drosselmeyer, with cape, beard and the gift of a nutcracker in the shape of a handsome soldier for young Clara (danced on the first night by Robyn McKie).

When the clock strikes midnight, dreams and/or magic happens. Mice do battle with toy soldiers come to life and the nutcracker, now a handsome prince, whisks Clara off to a land of ice and snow and then to the land of sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy serves up a banquet of dances from around the world.

This production is a feast for the eyes – I loved the backdrop of dangling Christmas tree baubles – and the orchestra in the pit worked its own magic with Tchaikovsky’s famous score.

As for the dancing, I was impressed by Remi Andreoni as the Nutcracker Prince and charmed by Quenby Hersh as The Snow Queen and Constance Devernay as The Sugar Plum Fairy.

I even liked the two monkeys who sit at the front of the stage and scratch and leer as a succession of dancers perform the banquet of Arabian, Chinese, Russian and French dances.

It is a happy, gorgeous production which lacks only the dark frisson of excitement which might come in with Drosselmeyer, the mysterious interloper.

That the production won’t please everyone – my friend Barbara who has seen “hundreds” of Nutcrackers, including the Bolshoi’s and Peter Darrell’s original, would have taken a chopper to the monkeys – is an indication that this is one ballet that is loved and revered.

At least it is back in the Scottish Ballet repertoire. And it looks fantastic.

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