For years I have day dreamed about spending a solo Christmas Eve strolling around Covent Garden getting lost in people watching and present perusing before heading in to the Opera House to watch the famous seasonal ballet; The Nutcracker.
I never have though- when I was younger I couldn’t afford a ticket and now I am older I don’t want to miss a second of a special Christmas Eve with my family so, I will wait until the girls are older and the sparkle of Christmas isn’t quite as special as it is when viewed through the eyes of a child and I might need a bit of it recreating for me.
Matthew Bourne’s version of ‘Nutcracker’ will certainly do that. Despite watching in The Liverpool Empire, on St David’s Day, it was every inch the kitch Christmas extravaganza that the poster and the Sunday Telegraph said it would be.
Having read the storybook of the Nutcracker to my children I was surprised to find that the ballet began in a bleak Dickensian Orphanage with monochrome staging and the ‘children’ in simple grey workhouse clothing. I really felt that in doing this Matthew Bourne makes the ballet more accessible to a wider audience and he goes into his reasoning in the programme notes which I learnt a lot from.
Having never seen a ballet before I was glad that the story was so clear and easy to ‘read’ thanks to the actions and expressions of the cast- without words you might presume things get lost but I didn’t find that at all.
Following on from the Orphanage we move into The Frozen Lake. The set takes on more colour and the audience feel as though they are moving further from reality and dipping into a dreamlike fantasy before the curtain falls for the interval.
The vibrant colours and exquisite costumes really come to the fore in Act 2 and WOW– the staging, artistry and pure perfection of the production are undeniable. Nothing is left to chance and each scene draws us deeper into the fantastical world of the Nutcracker. Clara is searching for her Nutcracker helped by some friends and stumbles upon the entrance to the Wedding Party.
Without an invite, Clara attempts to sneak in dancing with the various characters each of whom have their special pink envelopes. This is a really fun scene which illustrates the individual characters of the ballet.
Being honest, the dance with Clara and Knickerbocker Glory was a bit sinister for me- there was a child catcher vibe and the way he blew smoke at Clara making her like a rag doll made me shiver.
One inside (spoiler alert!) we are treated to the most famous part of the score; The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and thanks to a mirror making up part of the staging the audience has almost a 360* view of the dance- something I’d never seen before but felt worked brilliantly.
And on- to the wedding scene where the New Adventures team up the anti again. The centre piece of the staging is an incredible and huge wedding cake upon which sit the guests. I was transfixed.
Before long we are brought back down to earth and the monochrome setting on the orphanage returns and we are left wondering if it was all a dream…
Matthew Bourne’s take on The Nutcracker is now 30 years old itself but as fresh and delightful as the promo suggests. The original production much older still (first performed in 1892 to a very lukewarm reception).
Tchaikovsky’s score is glorious and pulls everything together- there will be recognisable pieces for almost everyone as well as lesser known sections which are just as spellbinding.
Nutcracker was not at all what I expected. Modern, witty, occasionally dark but always amazingly executed. If you think that ballet isn’t your thing, I would encourage you to give any of Matthew Bourne’s productions a try. They are anything but traditional and maybe all the better for that.
Nutcracker is showing at The Liverpool Empire until Saturday 5th March.