The Pleasance Theatre, Islington until 3 January 2016
Guest Review by Terry Eastham
Since first being performed in 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky has become a staple of the Christmas season for ballet and dance companies throughout the world – heck I even own three different DVDs of performances. The romantic story of the boy, turned into a toy, by bad magic, being rescued by a beautiful girl matched with Tchaikovsky’s immortal music make a perfect combination and really bring the Christmas season to life. In the countless productions around, possibly the most unusual is Nutcracker! The Musical which has just started a Christmas run in The Pleasance Theatre, Islington.
On Christmas Eve, Marie (Maria Coyne) is at home with her very annoying scamp of a brother Fritz (Matthieu Hauret) and their two extremely practical and busy parents, Dr (Ann Marcuson) and Mr Stahlbaum (Henry Wryley-Birch), when there is a knock at the door and in strides the elegant form of Uncle Drosselmier (Kris Webb). As the parents do their important things and Fritz plays – whilst trying to get a sneaky peek into the presents under the Christmas tree – Drosselmier sits with Marie and the two of them start to read a book together. In her mind, Marie is transported back to a time long ago in the fairy tale kingdom of Chronenburg where the King and Queen have a new baby daughter who, owing to an unfortunate argument between the Queen and Mouseyrinks (Jamie Birkett) – the Queen of the Mice – has been cursed to remain hideously deformed. Nobody knows what to do until the Royal Advisor (Matthew Ives) suggests the mystical Royal may be able to help. is there a solution? if there is then what part will the handsome Christian Elias (Peter Nash) play in the final story and will Marie come to learn the difference between storytelling and reality?
So, going to be very honest here. it took me a little while to warm to this production of Nutcracker! The Musical and if I’m truthful, I’m not entirely sure why. There were issues with sound – considering the size of the theatre, I was surprised that the cast weren’t miked up, but other than that,the only thing I could think of that was wrong was the heinous crime of giving the wonderful score words. However, once I got over this piece of theatrical snobbery, I was able to sit back, relax and thoroughly enjoy the show and had a really lovely time watching it.
Nancy Holson has actually done a fantastic job of finding lyrics to fit into the music and in producing a book that really draws the audience in and keeps hold of until the final note. Musical Director Robert Hazle does an excellent job of making sure the band, singers, music and lyrics flow together well throughout. The first act is quite long and plays a truly fantastic and completely unexpected trick on the audience as it takes them from Marie’s home to Chronenburg, Arabia, Polynesia, etc and back again. This was all achieved with some lovely work by Director Ollie Fielding and production Designer Eleanor Field who made great use of the Pleasance’s turntable stage.
The cast, most of whom play a variety of roles seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves throughout as the action moves from place to place. The singing is great and some of the dancing is actually quite exceptional – well done to Choreographer Alejandro Postigo. Amongst all the real talent on the stage, there were a couple of standout performances for me. Firstly, Matthieu Hauret who really breathed life into the part of Fritz – boy that kid was irritating – and then went on to play a very haughty Prince Folderoll superbly despite the fact that the characters were so completely different to each other. Next up, Drosselmier (Kris Webb’s performance as Drosselmier. Camp as a row of tents, Kris made Drosselmier the kind of uncle that the parents and children love to have visit for different reasons. He would be the one that took Fritz for his first pint – or Babycham – and, when babysitting, would let Marie sit alone in the living room with her boyfriend. But, if the family needed anything he would be there to help at a moment’s notice. Drosselmier is a wonderful character and Kris really did him justice on the stage. Finally, I’m sure that Jamie Birkett as Mouseyrinks will be getting a lot of praise this morning, and she really deserves it. usually when the villain of a piece like this comes on to take their curtain call, there is good natured booing from the audience but, unusually in Jamie’s case, there was the biggest roar of appreciation for her performance. Can’t say too much obviously but, if there is an Olivier category for best death scene then Jamie is a sure fire winner.
Summing up then, Nutcracker! The Musical is a superbly great show that keeps its audience entertained from start to finish. The combination of music, words and story work really well together and the show itself is a wonderful take on the old traditional story that provides something for adults and children alike and will leave you feeling a little bit more Christmassy when you leave the theatre. The one issue I had with the show was sound levels but that didn’t stop my enjoyment of the evening overall. I really believe that Nutcracker! The Musical is bound to join the list of traditional Christmas shows and I’m already looking forward to reviewing the next production – wherever it is – in December 2016,,