This lively and colourful version of The Nutcracker is a welcome addition to the Christmas shows around London. Nancy Holson has taken Tchaikovsky’s music and Hoffman’s stories and – with the help of orchestrators Bruce Keisling and Paul Rigano – come up with a musical version that is true to the much-loved original but takes us deep into panto-land.
Marie is a teenager with imagination, living in a family where her overworked always–on-the-phone parents tell her she must “be practical”. The first half of the show begins with the arrival of Uncle Drosselmier with presents for the family – they lead us into the tale of the birth of Princess Pirlipat, the evil spells of Mouseyrinks Queen of the mice and the quest to find a brave young man to break open the toughest nut in the world. The nutcracker-prince releases the princess from the spell but is trapped himself. The second half of the show is the story of how Marie frees the prince from the curse and overcomes the wicked Mouseyrinks. This is the sort of show where a happy ending is obligatory.
The story positively whirls along in the hands of a big cast of young singers and dancers who fill the stage with their energy and fun. There are many good performances. Maria Coyne is a 21st century heroine and has a proper “musical” voice. Ann Marcuson and Henry Wryley-Birch do a great job in the dual roles of Marie’s harassed parents and the King and Queen of Chronenburg. But Jamie Birkett steals the show as Mouseyrinks – she has a great voice and a gift of comic timing that has the audience screaming with laughter – her final number “Mouseyrinks’ Lament” brings the house down.
There are shortcomings. Tchaikovsky’s ballet music on which many of the songs are based was, of course, written for orchestral instruments and it does not always fit the voice very easily. This means that a lot of the words are inaudible, a problem made worse by the fact that the singers are not miked. A couple of key roles needed a bit more pizazz – drive rather than charm.
The Pleasance Theatre is a warm and welcoming venue and the clever staging designed by Eleanor Field and directed by Ollie Fielding makes the most of a musical that I for one would like to see done with the space and resources – and sound equipment – of a West End venue.