Ruth Sherry reviews the English National Ballet’s Nutcracker at the London Coliseum.
Seeing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker around Christmas has always been a dream of mine. Whilst I am an avid London theatre-goer, this was my first live ballet experience. This surprises even me as the English National Ballet’s performance of this classic festive treat has etched itself into the West End’s Christmas traditions. Annually, audiences have flocked to see their production of The Nutcracker for over 70 years, and I saw why! It was an unforgettable performance I wish I’d experienced much sooner and one which I would completely recommend as a ‘must see’ on a Christmas break in London.
The Coliseum has been magically transformed for Christmas. From the approach on St Martin’s Lane the building twinkles and sparkles, adorned with garlands, Christmas trees and fairy lights – the theatre shines under their magnificent spinning globe. On entering, you are welcomed by a delightful Christmas tree structure made up entirely of ballerina’s slippers, sprayed in different shades of green, and electrifying red ribbon.
I did not know the story of The Nutcracker prior to last night, and I didn’t need to. I was engrossed and enchanted by this wintery tale from the opening scene. I loved that there was snow from the outset as the ballet dancers roller skated across the impressively large stage, depicting a magical picture of ice skating on the Thames. As the story unfolded, I was immersed in the festive fairy tale.
During an elaborate party danced by cast members of all ages, the young Clara (Annalise Wainwight-Jones) is gifted a Nutcracker by a mysterious family friend, Drosselmeyer. That night, when Clara goes to sleep, she has a vivid and imaginative dream. The Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince to fight off the mice scuttling around her home, led by the terrifying Mouse King (William Simmons). As the battle between armies of tin soldiers and mice unfolded, I couldn’t help but smile under my face mask. I have an irrational fear of mice, so watching them being vanquished by Drosselmeyer’s handsome nephew, in this fantastical dream world, brought me so much personal joy!
There were outstanding performances throughout. It felt as though Takahashi was born to be principal in this very ballet, whilst Fabian Reimair, who plays Drosselmeyer, takes on a caring, paternal persona, which was familiarly endearing and reminded me of my loved ones who always put so much care and attention into making my Christmas magical when I was a child.
Particularly worthy of a special mention are the stunning costumes, made by Costume Supervisor, Lola Stott, and her team. It was impressive how in The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy, the costume transgressed the traditional, stiff tutu, for a floaty chiffon dress which made the dance even lighter and more delicate than anticipated.
Admittedly, up until this point, I have been feeling somewhat ‘Scrooge-like’ this year. I think news of the Omicron variant has dented the Christmas cheer for all of us. Yet, yesterday evening at the Coliseum was just the escape I needed to re-kindle that warm and tingly Christmassy spirit we all love to embrace.
As well as the magnificent performance, there are wider social reasons to experience the Coliseum. In the interval I treated myself to the ‘Land of Snow’, a Christmas themed cocktail made up of cinnamon-infused Cointreau, cranberry juice, rose prosecco, and winter berries. It was delicious. I felt very safe in the glow of the theatre public spaces; face masks are mandatory, social distancing in the foyers is encouraged, and my seat in the auditorium offered a comfortable amount of personal space. Also, worth mentioning; if like mine, your hands feel dry owing to continuous hand washing and sanitising, you will be delighted with the hand cream provided in the loos at the Coliseum! Small touches like this made my first visit to the ballet a magical and luxurious evening from start to finish.
A perfect treat for this time of the year. I went to sleep wishing I, like Clara, could vividly dream, to experience the opening night of The Nutcracker at The Coliseum all over again, and be mesmerised by the beauty of the spectacle once more.