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The Nutcracker: English National Ballet at the London Coliseum

Dancers in English National Ballet The Nutcracker

The English National Ballet performance of The Nutcracker runs at the Coliseum until 5 January 2020. See the Coliseum website for more details.

The Nutcracker, staged by the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum, makes a good introduction to ‘grown-up’ ballet for children over five years old. The fairytale, with its dancing toys, dastardly mice and lush Christmas setting, is an easy introduction to ballet’s elegant interplay of story, music and dance. We loved it, and returned this year for the second time in a row. There are so many Christmas theatre and dance performances to choose from in London. The fact that this was the show we wanted to go back and see, is a ringing endorsement.

When I took my seven year-old daughter to The Coliseum, in London’s Covent Garden, it was resplendent. In its foyer stood a three-metre tall Christmas tree, built from ivory-coloured ballet shoes and wreathed by a garland of twinkling lights. The auditorium was awe-inspiring, with a heavily decorated ceiling and statues of roaring lions gazing down from the gods. As the heavy red velvet curtains opened to reveal a festive, snowy scene, and Gerry Cornelius 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

Drosselmeyer in English National Ballet's The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

Drosselmeyer in English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

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 dashing 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.

Skyler Martin and Erina Takahashi in English National Ballet's The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

Skyler Martin and Erina Takahashi in English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

Wayne Eagling’s version of this enduring Christmas classic was a real festive treat. Tchaikovsky’s floaty, etheral music enveloped a mesmerising performance from Emma Hawes 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 to open the story featured falling snowflakes, ice skaters (on rollerblades), a sumptuous family party and a twinkly, towering Christmas tree. The set perfectly captured an Edwardian gentleperson’s Christmas in London.

Daniel Kraus as Mouse King and Skyler Martin as Nutcracker in English National Ballet's The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

Daniel Kraus as Mouse King and Skyler Martin as Nutcracker in English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

The costumes and set helped bring a vivid energy to the performance. Wayne Eagling’s mice were grotesque, with bulging eyes and stringy sinews. The Waltz of the Snowflakes, at the end of Act One, was particularly magical. Julia Conway and Francesca Velicu were all willowy arms and supple legs. The corps de ballet floated behind as feather-light petals of snow drifted onto the stage, and a chorus sang light, sweet melodies from the side of the stage.

Dancers in English National Ballet The Nutcracker

The Waltz of the Snowflakes was magical.

Act One was delightful in its storytelling. Emilia Cadorin’s Grandmother and Michael Coleman’s Grandfather hobbled across the stage during Drosselmeyer’s party, with perfect comedy timing. We really felt for Clara when her cheeky brother Freddie (Oscar Williams) broke her Nutcracker doll. 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.

Matthew Astley in English National Ballet's The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

Matthew Astley in English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Image credit Laurent Liotardo.

How long is The Nutcracker?

The Nutcrcker is two hours and fifteen minutes long, including an interval. The evening show starts at 7.30pm, which might be a little too late for the youngest audience members. But there are afternoon matinees, including a special family-friendly performance, when children under five can attend. Usually, youngsters under five are not allowed into the auditorium.

Verdict

The English National Ballet performance of The Nutcracker is 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 of The Nutcracker runs at the Coliseum until 5 January 2020. 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.

And don’t forget the good old Panto. Check out our guide to London Pantomimes 2019 here.

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