The Nutcracker: Banging the Drums for Ballet

By Roshan Doug

The Nutcracker, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hippodrome, Birmingham

I’m not someone who bangs on boringly about how London has had more than its fair share of national investment and arts capital whilst almost everywhere else continues to be shunted into the side-line. Neither do I believe that good shows are expensive and located invariably in the metropolis.

But I do think it’s important to look outside the perimetres of familiarity and refocus on the wider world to fully appreciate the changes taking place in a broader context. Otherwise, you’ll miss the gems that are scattered about the country.

For that reason I went to see The Nutcracker performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, a gem organisation that came out of the Saddler’s Well Theatre in the mid-1970s. Today it one of the proud landmarks of the second city’s cultural scene.

Directed and choreographed by Sir Peter Wright, this is a spectacular work with an impressive international cast who have brought an over 125-year-old piece – to life. So anyone who argues that good ballet can only be found in the capital, then I can only point them into the direction of this production at Hippodrome in Birmingham. It is truly – for the want of a better superlative – amazing.

Jonathan Caguioa as the Nutcracker Doll and Yasuo Atsuji as King Rat with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Rats; photo: Andrew Ross

Firstly, Tchaikovsky’s score is outstandingly familiar and lodged into our cultural psychic such as the Waltz and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy performed by Momoko Hirata. My son was impressed with the orchestral music beautifully synchronized with the balletic movements.

But apart from brilliantly orchestrated music, this production also contains first class ballet performed by the protagonist, Clara (played, the night I went, by Laura Day). Here I think it’s important to mention other very accomplished dancers – Celine Gittens as the Rose Fairy, Lachlan Monaghan, the magician and Brandon Lawrence as the Nutcracker prince. But that’s not in any way meant to take the limelight away from the rest of the team who were exceptional.

Karla Doorbar as Clara and Joseph Caley as the Prince with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; photo: Caroline Holden

As for the music, anyone who is not aware of the pieces has clearly been living on Mars or has been going about their business with ears closed.

Finally, the special effects are outstanding. The production took my breath away when Stahlbaum family’s Christmas tree is transformed into a forest in front of our very eyes transporting both Clara and us into a magical, mystical world. At that very point, a girl behind me uttered ‘wow’ – an expression that summed up the whole evening! Wow indeed.

Rory Mackay as Drosselmeyer with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; photo: Andrew Ross

I thought it was particularly poignant as I went to review this production the very weekend the legendary Shashi Kapoor died. He had once said that watching a good ballet like The Nutcracker can transport him into the subconscious state. Watching this performance, I think I know what he means.

Well done, Birmingham Royal Ballet; well done, Hippodrome and farewell Shashi Kapoor.