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English National Ballet: Nutcracker | Review

Daniel Kraus as Mouse King and Skyler Martin as Nutcracker credit Laurent Liota
Daniel Kraus as Mouse King and Skyler Martin as Nutcracker credit Laurent Liota

There can be no better way to banish the General Election / Brexit malaise than to escape into the magical world of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker of 1892 now marvellously recreated for us by the wonderfully refreshing concept and choreography of Toer van Schayk and Wayne Eagling. Designer Peter Farmer’s set costumes and props are both spellbinding and spectacular. Gerry Cornelius conducts the English National Ballet Philharmonic with verve and panache. This Nutcracker has something for everyone whether you are 8 or 80. From pantomime knock about, ice skating, slapstick humour, subtle comedy of manners, things that go bump in the night, dreams and nightmares, battles and duels, round the world in a basket balloon (Time Magazine’s woman of the year Greta Thunberg would surely approve as it is wholly wind powered), synchronised snowflakes and flowers and to top it all the most romantic dancing couple one could wish for. This is escapism at its most sublime.

Nutcracker works particularly well at this time of year because it takes place on Christmas Eve with all the excitement and expectation that the day holds. Both for children and for adults who can look back with nostalgia. Toys are a big part of Christmas and so it is in Nutcracker that Dr Drosselmeyer’s (James Streeter is a delight) gift of a Nutcracker doll to Clara (as a child Sophie Carter) triggers the events of the ballet. The ballet is in effect Clara’s dream. In her dream, Clara has become a beautiful young woman (Erina Takahashi, who is superb) who gets to dance with her Nutcracker doll which surprise surprise has transformed into a dashing soldier (Francesco Gabriele Frola is tremendous). What was that about women liking men in uniform? The chemistry between these two is electric and the climax as they dance a glorious pas de deux – she as the Sugar Plum Fairy and he as the Prince is to die for. The elegance, grace, power and exquisite artistry is breathtaking.

Along the way we get some terrific pantomime villain capers from The Mouse King (Daniel Kraus) and his motley crew (the use of the mouse trap as a catapult which fires giant cheeses is pure genius); the puppet theatre which just happens to be showing a global dance festival with dancers from Spain, Arabia, China and Russia, a winter wonderland with human snowflakes (falling faintly, faintly falling) and a garden of Eden where the corps de ballet perform the mesmerising Waltz of the Flowers. And all this visual beauty is intensified tenfold by the some of the most spine-tingling music (listen out for the celesta, the sound of ringing glass bells to stand for the Fairy) ever composed.

5 Star Rating

Review by John  O’Brien

Over 100 dancers and musicians bring Nutcracker to life with exquisite dancing, beautiful sets and Tchaikovsky’s popular score played live.

On a sparkling Christmas Eve in a frost-dusted Edwardian London, Clara receives an enchanted Nutcracker as a present. Together, they discover a magical world where she battles with the Mouse King and meets a handsome stranger. As the air grows colder, Clara and her valiant Nutcracker take a hot air balloon ride across London to the glistening Land of Snow where a puppet theatre comes to life with dancers from around the world.

From the sound of the orchestra tuning up, to the final bows and cheers, a trip to English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is an unforgettable Christmas treat.

Principal Cast
Erina Takahashi – Clara
Francesco Gabriele Frola – Nephew
Skyler Martin – Nutcracker

Wayne Eagling – Concept and Choreography
Toer van Schayk – Concept
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Music
Peter Farmer – Design
David Richardson – Lighting

London Coliseum
11 Dec – 05 Jan
2 hours including one interval


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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