Review: The Nutcracker at Nuffield Theatre, 13/12/13

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The original story of The Nutcracker was written by Ernst Theodor Hoffman almost 200 years ago. The tale has survived the test of time and is a much loved festive classic. As a child, I watched an adaptation of it almost every year, so I was excited to find out that it would be shown at the Nuffield Theatre this year.

The story begins on Christmas Eve, when the mysterious Uncle Drosselmeier presents a young girl, Clara, with the gift of a toy nutcracker. Uncle Drosselmeier then tells the story behind the Nutcracker. His nephew, Elias, was transformed into the wooden doll after being cursed by the evil mouse queen, Mauselink, who he accidentally killed by stepping on her. Clara’s not sure whether she believes such a tale; after all, Drosselmeier has been known to tell some particularly peculiar stories. But when a Mouse King visits her in the middle of the night demanding that she return the Nutcracker so he can avenge his mother’s death, she’s not so sure that Uncle Drosselmeier was making the story up…

I was immediately struck by the engagement of the performers with the audience, which was consistent throughout the show. Before the show had started, the performers, dressed in white lab coats, approached and interacted with members of the audience, much to the delight of many of the show’s young viewers. These costumes were unusual and unexpectedly modern for such a traditional play. Despite its age, the story, adapted by Hattie Naylor, seemed fresh, exciting and new. Viewers became immersed in the mysterious, enchanted world  of the play where mice could talk and toys came to life.

The music, arranged by musical director Malcolm Newton was thoroughly enjoyable and slotted seamlessly into the story. One song was so catchy that it stayed with me long after the show had finished! The performers worked really well together and their enthusiasm was clear from the beginning of the show. I think the stand out performance of the night was from Sandy Batchelor (who trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School), who played the parts of Albert, Elias and the Nutcracker. He was thoroughly engaging to watch and gave a humorous, energetic and, at times, touching performance.

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Photos by Richard Budd

I have to say that certain aspects of the show are quite dark and may be quite frightening to smaller children. There was a ‘battle’ scene involving cannons (foam balls) being thrown into the audience with loud crashes, siren noise and flashing orange and yellow lights. While many viewers loved being involved and were throwing the balls back onstage with glee, some younger children found the scene alarming and confusing with so much going on.

9/10. Overall, I really enjoyed the performance and I would recommend it to anyone. While it is described as a ‘family’ show, I think that it’s also perfect for adults who want another chance to revisit a tale from their childhood.  This was director Blanche McIntyre’s (winner of the Best Director award at the 2013 TMA UK Theatre Awards) first production as a Nuffield Associate and I think she did a fantastic job. I guarantee that this show will leave you feeling festive and full of cheer.

The Nutcracker is being performed until the 12th of January at the Nuffield Theatre. Visit www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk for tickets and more information.

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