THE NUTCRACKER | London, Royal Albert Hall

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 1990 production is so effortless and light that it actually lacks impact. Originally created by Sir Peter Wright as a gift to Birmingham, the production has enjoyed a London remounting at the Royal Albert Hall since 2017. We are transported by the spectacular set design (Dick Bird), including gigantic Christmas tree baubles that magically descend from the auditorium’s enormous ceiling right down onto the stage, during Clara’s (Karla Doorbar) wondrous journey.

But the biggest cheer from the audience goes to the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and conductor Paul Murphy, who play in full view, on a raised platform above the set. Boosted by brilliant sound tech (Bobby Aitken), and even a synthesiser for the choir in the Act I finale, Murphy’s conducting turns Tchaikovsky’s restrained and twinkling score into a Christmas Hollywood blockbuster, with string slides and jazzy vibrato. It’s not one for the purists, but it keeps us hanging on every note of the ballet’s famous and familiar score.

The choreography by Sir Peter Wright (as well as Vincent Redmon, David Bintley and Marion Tait, based on the original by Lev Ivanov), seems tame, although the company’s dancing throughout is energised and technically brilliant. What sticks out is the deviations from tradition, like how Clara actually joins in some of the showpieces in the land of sweets during Act II, leaping onto the pile of three Russian dancers (Enrique Bejarano Vidal, Ryan Felix, Thomas Hazelby) like an angel on top of a Christmas tree.

It’s also a nice touch for ballet first-timers to hear Simon Callow’s (pre-recorded) narration by Drosselmeyer (Rory Mackay), who acts as the audience’s guide in this otherwise silent world. But despite the magic of the music and spectacle, something about this production doesn’t quite crack the nut.

Playing at the Royal Albert Hall 28 – 31 December 2022.

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