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Review: The Nutcracker! at Nottingham's Theatre Royal

It is 30 years ago that Matthew Bourne’s version of the 130-year-old classic Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker! first burst upon and delighted audiences.

Since then it has been seen by millions and become one of the most popular works in Bourne’s New Adventures company repertoire. So it could have been tempting for Bourne to leave well alone and enjoy the anniversary year.

Instead, a refreshed and re-imagined Nutcracker! Is touring to equal acclaim, and at Nottingham Theatre Royal this week it proved the new production is all set to become as much of a classic as the original.

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!
Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!

From the stark monochrome orphanage to the riotous colour of Sweetieland, the show is a visual delight, thanks to the fabulous sets and costumes of designer Anthony Ward.

The Nutcracker himself is, instead of the familiar soldier-like figure, a rather sinister life-size ventriloquist’s dummy, that heroine Clara (Cordelia Braithwaite) and her orphan friends understandably fear at first. But, of course, he soon turns into a handsome chap (Harrison Dowzell) and, after a dream dalliance with the spoilt Princess Sugar (Ashley Shaw) naturally finally returns to Clara in real life.

The ballet’s famous snowflake scene is beautifully re-imagined with the orphans skating across a frozen pond in sparkling formation.

The youthful ensemble’s considerable talents are put to full use as they transform in Clara’s imagination from brow-beaten orphans to a dazzling selection box of dancing sweets ­— liquorice allsorts, gobstoppers, pink marshmallows, a giant humbug ­— with Ben Brown excellent as the outlandish and lascivious Knickerbocker Glory.

One thing that remains unchanged in this new production is Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous score, which Bourne acknowledges is the main reason for The Nutcracker’s perennial appeal in all its forms.

Bourne’s simplified story, in which our heroine overcomes adversity, grows up, and experiences first love, is one to which most people can relate, and when mixed with imagination and fantasy, you have a bitter-sweet confection that is hard to resist. ­— JJ.

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