Friday, 16 February 2018
Standard YouTube Licence
Scottish Ballet The Nutcracker Theatre Royal Newcastle 2 Feb 2018
I have seen three versions of The Nutcracker over the last few months: the Royal Ballet's at the Royal Opera House, the Birmingham Royal Ballet's at the Hippodrome and Scottish Ballet's at the Theatre Royal Newcastle. I just can't decide which I like best because each version has its own strengths. Scottish Ballet's are Peter Darrell's libretto and choreography, Lez Brotherston's designs and, of course, the company's brilliant dancers.
In Darrell's version, Clara remains a little girl. She does not morph into Sugar Plum. She gets rid of the vermin who stray into the second act by kissing rather than thumping them. At the end of the ballet it is she and not Sugar Plum who invites the conductor onto the stage to take a bow. I also like Scottish Ballet's divertissements. The Chinese, for example, are not treated as acrobatic clowns despire the musical prompting. They have a short but sweet dance for two female dancers. The Arabian dance is a charming solo for one femalle. There is an English dance with a hornpipe that brought to mind Balanchine's Union Jack and, to a lesser extent, Cranko's Pineapple Poll.
Brotherston's sets and costumes are magnificent. It cannot be easy to create a set for touring. The opening scene looked like a Christmas card. It gave way to the Stahlbaums' Christmas party in a solid looking living room but the scene that impressed me most was the kingdom of the sweets with its hundreds of Christmas tree baubles. As for the costumes I particularly liked the female mice. Without a doubt Brotherston's vermin are the best in the business. Nobody has better mouse heads.
Sugar Plum was danced by Bethany Kingsley-Garner. I became one of her fans when I saw her in Cinderella in 2015 (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015). I was impressed by her performance in Dawson's Swan Lake a few months later (see Empire Blance: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016). She delighted me yet again in The Nutcracker. She was partnered well by Evan Loudon. Chrstopher Harrison was a splendid Drosselmeyer. Marge Hendrick was a charming Snow Queen. As I have said before, it is the children who can make or break The Nutcracker and in this production the students definitely helped to make it. Particularly Ailish Ogilvie who danced Clara and Charles O'Rourke her tiresome little brother. Finally, it s always good to see Matthew Broadbent. Tall and athletc he attracts attention. I was a fan when he was at Northern Ballet and even more so now.
There were a few weaknesses. The orchestra sounded a little thin at times partcularly in the overture but that could have been the theatre's accoustics. Newcastle's Theatre Royal is an archotectural gem and it is easy to reach by public transport but it is not the most comfortable venue. Scottish Ballet's Christmas show visits all the major venues in Scotland but rarely ventures into England and never south of Newcastle. That is a shame because audiences in the rest of the UK would love it.