REVIEW: Nutcracker!, Sadler’s Wells

This dazzling take on the classic ballet is a real breath of fresh air even with the darker qualities drawn out of the story.

(c)Johan Persson

This is very much a Nutcracker of two halves. On the one hand, you have the grimness of the orphanage of where Clara and her friends live celebrating a modest Christmas – and then on the other you have the dazzling joyfulness of Sweetieland that has Alice in Wonderland vibes about it. Put together, it is a show that offers a really interesting take on the story – even if at times it feels some aspects of the story are lost behind the impressive visual aspects.

Through his darker in tone take on the plot, Matthew Bourne enhances the feeling of how much it is actually a coming of age story – in particular falling in love for the first time and Clara realising that she is on the brink of adulthood. But as always with Bourne’s productions, a lot of the focus is on the characters and how they are conveyed through choreography as well as ensuring the audience is suitably swept into the world he has created with the help of impressive set and costume designs.

Anthony Ward’s set and costume designs are stars of the show in their own right – ensuring the contrast between the monochrome and bleakness of the orphanage and reality is nicely contrasted by colourfulness and dreaminess of Sweetieland. In particular, the costumes of The Allsorts Trio are delightfully funky as are the outfits of The Gobstoppers – making it feel like you have entered the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is bold and has a childish exuberance about it that keeps the audience enthralled.

However, while it is aesthetically pleasing there are times in which I did feel as though aspects of the story were lost – particularly in Sweetieland which seems to be more about the characters then the journey that Clara goes on. But then maybe that’s the point: our dreams can take us where ever we want to in order to escape reality.

On the other hand as always, Matthew Bourne’s choreography is a pure delight to behold. Using a wide variety of styles, he is able to use his choreography to highlight and interpret Tchaikovsky’s timeless score in new and imaginative ways that will appeal to contemporary audiences just discovering this ballet for the first time. In particular, I loved the way in which the “national dances” have all been reimagined – proving to be a real highlight in a show that is certainly filled with plenty of treats.

For this production, all of the performers offer delicious and mesmerising performances. From Ashley Shaw’s wonderfully self-absorbed Princess Sugar, Cordelia Braithwaite’s charming and confident Clara and Dominic North’s bratty Fritz – these are all performances that delight and thrill from start to finish. But the whole cast are a joy to watch, with sequences including featuring the Marshmallow Girls or even the unexpected playfulness of certain moments during the orphanage scenes showing off exquisite timing and joy that really showcase just why New Adventures is such a highly respected company.

Yes the plot feels a little more bewildering in this production, but there is so much that dazzles in this refreshing production that it is certainly one that will stay in my mind for a long time.

By Emma Clarendon

Nutcracker! Will continue to play at Sadler’s Wells until the 30th January.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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