The Nutcracker, staged by the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum, was possibly the best first ‘grown-up’ ballet for my six year-old daughter. The fairytale, with its dancing toys, dastardly mice and lush Christmas setting, was an easy introduction to ballet’s elegant interplay of story, music and dance.
The Coliseum on a Friday night was magical. A splendid Christmas tree, built from ballet shoes in shades of cerise and baby pink, stood in its foyer. We bought sweet, crystalline sugar mice at the bar, and went through to the awe-inspiring auditorium. As the heavy red velvet curtains opened to reveal a festive, snowy scene, and Gavin Sunderland conducted the orchestra in the opening bars of the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker suite, I knew that my daughter and I were in for a real festive treat.
The Nutcracker Suite story
The Nutcracker is a dreamy tale, which opens in Edwardian London. Young Clara and her friends are at a party, and Clara’s Godfather Drosselmeyer gives her a present of a nutcracker doll. When Clara falls asleep later that evening, she enters a dream. In this world, her nutcracker doll is in fact Drosselmeyer’s nephew Hans-Peter, transformed into toy shape by the evil Mouse King. Clara and the Nutcracker fly off in a hot air balloon to the Land of the Sweets, persued by the King’s mice. After battling and defeating the Mouse King, the Nutcracker doll turns back into Hans-Peter. He and Clara dance triumphantly to end the performance.
Wayne Eagling’s version of this enduring Christmas classic didn’t disappoint us. Tchaikovsky’s floaty, etheral music enveloped a mesmerising performance from Rina Kanehara as the older Clara. Her younger counterpart, played by a tiny Sophie Carter, was all sweetness and verve. She was accompanied by an impressive entourage of young dancers from the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, and students from the English National Ballet.
A series of enchanting festive scenes featured falling snowflakes, ice skaters (on rollerblades), a sumptuous family party and a twinkly, towering Christmas tree. The set perfectly captured that evocative nostalgia for an Edwardian gentleperson’s Christmas in London.
Wayne Eagling’s mice were grotesque, with bulging eyes and stringy sinews. My six-year old daughter, usually quite sensitive to dark undertones in performances, was too distracted by the prettiness of the show to be frightened. The Waltz of the Flowers was particularly delightful. Tiffany Herdman and Precious Adams were all willowy arms and supple legs, and the corps de ballet floated behind like elegantly rotating candyfloss canes.
Act One was delightful in its storytelling. Characterful performances during Drosselmeyer’s party saw Jennie Harrington’s Grandmother and Michael Coleman’s Grandfather hobbling across the stage, and a comic turn from Drosselmeyer himself (Fabian Reimair). But it was in Act Two that the dancers really showed their strengths. Russian toys and Spanish dancers erupted onto stage with vibrant gusto, and the Suger Plum Fairy made her sweet pirouettes look easy. The performance’s dramatic crescendo had people from the audience in tears.
How long is The Nutcracker?
At two hours and fifteen minutes, including an interval, The Nutcracker is rather long for very young children. But my six year-old was so captivated by the show that she was entranced until the end. The only difficulty was in the lateness of the performance. Our evening show started at 7.30pm, when she would usually be going to bed. But there are afternoon matinees, including a family-friendly performance, when very young children can attend. Usually, youngsters under five are not allowed into the auditorium.
On balance, despite the late finish for my daughter, I was glad we went to an evening show. The drama of the ballet was mirrored by the splendid outfits and glamour of the audience. It really was an unforgettable experience, with all the wow-factor that you would want from a London Christmas show.
We were invited to see The Nutcracker for the purpose of this review. The English National Ballet performance runs at the Coliseum until 30 December 2018. Many seats are sold out, but you can sometimes buy returns. See the Coliseum website for more details.
For more on what to do this Christmas, check out our post on free things to do in London.