As skaters conga though the snow that falls outside, Clara’s parents throw a Christmas Eve party for their staid bourgeois friends, writes Cary Gee. Alone in her bedroom Clara dreams up an altogether more enchanting fantasy, where an evil Mouse King fights dashing duels with her toy soldiers – magically brought to life in the form of handsome male dancers – snowflakes and flowers pirouette prettily with pinpoint precision and someone even takes a balloon ride across the stage (which I admit is a new one on me).
But none of these elements, which are tweaked annually, really matter that much. So beloved is this production of the Nutcracker, (now in its tenth year) that as long as the band plays in tune and no one falls over its pretty much critic-proof.
As the Mouse King, Daniel Kraus pursues young Clara (Sophie Carter) through the frozen Land of Snow with the fizzing intensity of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Clara morphs into Erina Takahashi whose fouettés alone will make your head spin, and later the Sugar Plum Fairy. Perhaps because you are unable to take your eyes off Kraus, choreographer Wayne Eagling opts to keep him alive well into Act 2 before he is finally defeated and dashing Italian dancer Francesco Gabriele Frola takes the lead as the kind of Prince who could keep anyone awake at night.
The plot, which has always taken a supporting role to the sheer spectacle of the Nutcracker, becomes even less important in the second act, as dancer after dancer dazzles the audience with a succession of eye-popping set pieces, each more shimmering than the stars on the Christmas tree that dominates the stage. No one likes a show-off? In this instance, they are excused. The Flower and Snowflake waltzes, led by the beautifully assured Precious Adams, are as tasty as Stollen dunked in mulled wine, and the whole experience as comfortingly familiar as waking up to a cuddle from a loved one on Christmas morning.
If you’ve not been to a classical ballet before there is really is no better an introduction. Just bear in mind however, that it’s not called the Nutcracker because of the well-toned buns on display!’