English National Ballet’s Nutcracker attempts to present a traditional ballet with a darker edge; the Mouse King returns throughout, his presence felt right up until the end, when good finally triumphs over evil. However, it is still primarily a lighthearted production, which deals with the magic of Christmas much more fully than with the threat of nightmares.
Farmer’s designs conjure a delightfully fairytale realm, where the stylised sets for the ‘realist’ setting of the first act prefigure the fantasy of the second. The production makes use of the whole stage in order to balance the real and the fantastic, the quotidian and the nocturnal: for example, we see Clara asleep in her bed upstage as the figures from her dream slowly disperse, blending the two worlds.
The costumes, like the sets, are elaborate and stylised, evoking a real sense of childlike wonder at their beauty – with an obvious exception. The mice, led by the fantastic James Streeter, are a gruesomely beautiful rendering of a classic nightmare, with bare skulls in place of heads.
As usual, the English National Ballet company dancers excel; Eagling’s choreography is lively, requiring emotional as well as physical strength from the performers, who must maintain their vivacity throughout the two hour production. Every section is a visual treat, but special mentions must go to Summerscales, Reimair, and Cojocaru.
Although Nutcracker is one of the world’s best-loved ballets, and a favourite at this time of year, it must be admitted that there is a lack of plot. This production falls prey to this very problem: its gestures towards darkness are not taken far enough to be anything new in a post-Matthew Bourne world, and the twist ending is predictable and not a little disappointing.
Notwithstanding the lack of depth, ENB’s Nutcracker is an aesthetic triumph: Eagling’s choreography and Farmer’s design combine with Tchaikovsky’s score to create a charming and festive production, which will be enjoyed by all ages.