Unlike English National Ballet’s production, BRB’s The Nutcracker is entirely traditional and has been skilfully adapted to the specific conditions of the RAH, where the stage is a huge open platform, with no proscenium and no wings. It is, of course, danced to Tchaikovsky's gorgeous score, played live.
It starts at a Christmas Eve party in the drawing room of the Stahlbaums, a bourgeois family living somewhere in 19th century Germany. Much fun is had by all, including the tale's protagonist: the mysterious Drosselmeyer’s god-daughter, Clara – a child on the verge of adolescence.
Drosselemeyer’s present to Clara is the eponymous Nutcracker. She falls in love with her doll, who in her dream turns into a charming prince. After he leads the soldiers to victory over the scary rat army (with a little help from Clara herself), the pair are whisked to a magical winter wonderland by Drosselmeyer.
This is where the projections come into their own: when this production is danced in a proscenium theatre, through a trick of stagecraft Drosselmeyer makes the Stahlbaums’ Christmas tree magically grow and grow before our very eyes, symbolising the transition from the real world to the world of magic and dreams.
In the Royal Albert Hall that’s not possible, so as the actual tree is discreetly wheeled off, an ever-growing Christmas tree is projected onto the giant screens that flank the stage with mesmerising colour and definition. It appears to envelop us. It's an "ahhh" moment that really does work.
As does the image of naked frosty trees in a moonlit forest, the set for the Dance of the Snowflakes that brings Act I to an end, as flakes of fake snow fall gently onto the stage and the first rows of the RAH arena.
Another clever moment comes at the very end, when all the Act II variations – Harlequin and Columbine, Arab Dancers, Chinese Dancers, Mirlitons, Russian Dancers – freeze in unnatural poses as the lights go down, indicating that they were all dolls from Drosselmeyer’s workshop brought to life in Clara’s own dream. That, too, works beautifully.
To make the storyline as clear as possible to even the youngest audience members, as well as giving some coherence to the disparate variations in Act II. a narration voiced by actor Simon Callow with a thick cod-German accent has been introduced. It’s supposed to be the voice of the mysterious Drosselmeyer, and it guides us through the key points of the plot.
BRB's dancers give it their all, despite their really punishing schedule, and the sheer artistry and vibrancy of their performances make this a very special treat indeed, and one that you may want to plan for well in advance given is very short run.
We advise against taking expensive arena seats, where the sight lines are not good, particularly for the small persons. Much better to go for the stalls or anything above that.
|What||Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Nutcracker 2019, RAH|
|Where||Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
28 Dec 19 – 31 Dec 19, 19:00 29 Dec 13:00 & 17:30; 30 Dec 14:00 & 19:00; 31 Dec 12:00 & 16:00 Dur.: 2 hours 10 mins inc one interval
|Website||Click here to book|