The venue is the Tuff Nut Jazz Club, an attractive, intimate pop-up at the back of the Royal Festival Hall (capacity 181), its moody ambience designed by the acclaimed Olivier and Tony Award nominee Soutra Gilmour.
The minute rectangular performance space has seats on three sides with the band installed on the fourth. With a patchwork sofa and small artificial Christmas tree, this is no longer little Clara’s comfortable middle-class home, but rather a drab council flat, where young Clive (Mark Samaras) lives with his father (Tim Hodges).
Mark Samaras and Tim Hodges in the McOnie Company's Nutcracker. Photo: Mark Senior
It’s Christmas night. In his dressing gown and pyjamas, Clive adds his paltry decorations to the tree, showing particular affection for a purple doll. Father is not happy – he confiscates the doll and instead gives Clive an Action Man.
Disappointed, Clive goes to sleep on the sofa but then magic happens. Rather like the original nutcracker, the Action Man (Amonik Melaco) comes alive and leads Clive to a magical dreamland.
With a cast of six terrific dancers, plenty of imagination, a healthy sense of mischief and eye-catching costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight, McOnie creates his own enthralling Christmas magic.
The original divertissements are alluded to, but now they are named after fruit: Orange, Lemon, Blueberries, etc, and brightly dressed accordingly. The colourful costumes are worn by interchangeably by men and women. There is, of course, a Sugar Plum (Patricia Zhou).
Patricia Zhou in the McOnie Company's Nutcracker. Photo: Mark Senior
The score for The Nutcracker is possibly Tchaikovsky’s best-known and best-loved work, and messing with it is a perilous decision. It is, therefore, good to be able to report that composer Cassie Kinoshi has created a glorious jazzy alternative, respectful of the original, whose tunes are recognisable, but taking its own soaring flights of imagination and, as performed by a splendid jazz quartet, serving the dancing to perfection.
Brimming with vitality, with the ensemble dancers taking on a variety of roles, McOnie’s Nutcracker has funny moments, magical ‘ahhh’ moments and its fair share of emotion.
The emblematic Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux, here given to Action Man and Sugar Plum, remains the climatic moment of the ballet; and the finale back in the real world, when the father comes to accept Clive as he is, is genuinely uplifting, McOnie’s message lightly conveyed through humour and a pink rhinestone-studded toy car.
A few young children were at the performance I attended and they seemed rapt throughout the show’s 60-minute duration. As indeed were the adults, all of us completely sold on McOnie's deeply satisfying alternative view of the Christmas ballet.
Age Guidance: 6+
|What||McOnie Company, Nutcracker review|
|Where||Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
28 Oct 23 – 06 Jan 24, Shows a various times. Consult website. Dur.: 60 mins no interval
|Price||£35-£150 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|