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Royal Albert Hall, London
WHERE would the festive period be without pantos like A Christmas Carol or ballets like The Nutcracker?
Better off, some would say, but the naysayers might be persuaded differently by the quality of what's on offer and this new version of the two-act ballet classic by Birmingham Royal Ballet, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas and with Tchaikovsky's uber-famous score, is up there with the best of them.
Remaining largely true to the original, it tells the story of toymaker and magician Drosselmeyer, narrated by legendary actor Simon Callow, who appears in a puff of smoke to give family and children presents as they decorate the Christmas tree.
His goddaughter Clara (Laura Day) gets a wooden nutcracker shaped like a toy soldier, who comes to life at the stroke of midnight to lead a band of soldiers in fighting off the Mouse King and his swarming “mischief” of mice.
Transformed into a handsome prince on defeating the Mouse King, the Nutcracker rewards Clara for her help by taking her to his home in the Land of Sweets, where we meet the Sugar Plum Fairy (Jenna Roberts) and enjoy one breathtaking dance after another from around the world. An unfortunate note, though, is the racist stereotyping in the dance from China.
What impresses most, aside from the graceful foot work of Day, Roberts and the Nutcracker Prince (Tyrone Singleton), is how the not-so-ideal dance space of the Royal Albert is transformed by outstanding stage design, surely one of the best for this classic.
The illusion of the Christmas tree growing to gigantic proportions is spectacularly created by giant baubles descending from the ceiling while dazzling projections replace the tree. Later, we're even doused in snowflakes from snow machines above the stage and stalls.
One magic trick that can't fail to impress even the most jaundiced.
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