Drew McOnie’s new adaptation of the classic festive ballet is playful and poignant but can feel as though it lacks some of the magic in places.
So it is this time of year once more and while there will be plenty of traditional productions of Tchaikovsky’s classic festive ballet, this new adaptation directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie is certainly one that will stand out this Christmas season.
For me, The Nutcracker has always felt like a coming of age story hidden beneath the magical adventures that Clara goes on and Drew McOnie has certainly managed to keep this feel through his distinctly more contemporary take on the classic Christmas story. In this version of the story the central character is now Clive and the setting, instead of an upper class household is now a rundown bedsit in which Clive’s father is struggling to raise his son, which makes the story feel more accessible for new audiences. Here, it is a story of Clive finding his identity (he would prefer to play with a doll as opposed to action man) and re-building his relationship with his father, which is strained.
Stepping into Soutra Gilmour’s specially designed performance space aka the Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, there is a feeling of intimacy throughout this hour long show that allows the audience to feel as close to the action as possible and see up close the wonderful precision and talent of the cast bringing the story to life. While perhaps Cassie Kinoshi’s jazzy adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s popular score can feel a little bit over the top in places and doesn’t feel as though it still ties in as neatly with the story as it should, there is also no denying it does show the power of Tchaikovsky’s music that makes it so adaptable, particularly once Clive is taken to dreamland. Kinoshi ensures that the familiar aspects of the score are still as distinctive as ever, but allows the audience to experience it in a new and vibrant way.
As the story unfolds, McOnie’s adaptation manages to keep the balance of playfulness (I for one loved the use of the confetti as snow that is eventually blown into the audience to everybody’s delight) and poignancy of the story consistent from start to finish, however I did feel as though the hour running time could be expanded further to ensure that the story doesn’t feel quite so rushed through. What this adaptation does do well though it showcase the develop the relationship between Clive and action man (who is the nutcracker in this scenario), which in turn helps Clive understand that there are many different ways to be considered a man and that he should be proud of himself in the way in which he is developing as highlighted by a touching scene towards the end of the show.
But oh the use of colour throughout this production enhances the childlike exuberance that this production has, particularly combined with McOnie’s clever and vibrant choreography that relies on a lot of precision by the cast – particularly given the limited space available. Ryan Dawson Laight’s gorgeous and dazzling costume designs along with Joshie Harriette’s bold and candy coloured lighting design manages to help convey the fact that Clive is on an adventure in a world of imagination effectively as much as any set can do. Just look out for the use of different ‘cocktails’ which Clive and Action Man take sips of to bring to life or meet different characters which doesn’t fail to charm and shows great imagination.
Yet somehow, it feels as though this Nutcracker is still lacking a little bit of the magic you come to expect from the story. Whether this is down to the limited running time or the fact that on occasions it is difficult to keep up with what is happening story wise as there is a lack of clarity it is difficult to say.
However, I can not fault that cast whose joy in the choreography can not be denied and it is hard not to be swept in by their performances and characterisations. At the centre of it all, Mark Samaras as Clive is a delight to watch as he scampers across the stage with great childlike exuberance, but balancing this with a lovely sense of vulnerability and uncertainty that is very poignant. Elsewhere, Patricia Zhou is a charming Sugar Plum, adding touches of humour to her performance that is difficult to take your eyes off her, while Amonik Melaco shows great strength and power as Action Man.
Overall, this is a refreshing take on a classic story but it just needs a touch more magic to really make it shine. It is however, enjoyable and entertaining from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
Nutcracker at the Tuff Nutt Club continues to play at the Southbank Centre until the 6th January. To book tickets visit: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/performance-dance/nutcracker