English National Ballet's Nutcracker Is As Festive As It Gets

Nutcracker, London Coliseum ★★★★☆

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English National Ballet's Nutcracker Is As Festive As It Gets Nutcracker, London Coliseum 4
Erina Takahashi and Francesco Gabriele Frola in Nutcracker (c) Laurent Liotardo / English National Ballet

Is there anything more Christmassy than the Nutcracker? The magical story of a wooden nutcracker toy that comes to life at Christmas, and his adventures with young Clara through the Land of Sweets is a festive classic that appears nearly every year. This year, with the Royal Ballet opting for Coppélia rather than the usual Nutcracker, English National Ballet’s (ENB’s) rendition of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale may have a slight leg up in drawing in Christmas audiences. It's both a fail-safe timeless ballet, and one which, this year, deviates in some ways from the original.

Erina Takahashi and Francesco Gabriele Frola in Nutcracker (c) Laurent Liotardo

Picture-perfect skating scenes, designed by Peter Farmer, in which dancers glide across the stage in wheeled shoes amid a flurry of snow, capture Christmas spirit in a nutshell. The dancing is, of course, stunning — even the children who grace the stage in the early party scenes and sing the atmospheric backing to the dance of the snowflakes are seriously impressive, and Principal Shiori Kase, dancing the role of grown-up Clara, is just mesmerising.

Daniel Kraus as Mouse King and Skyler Martin as Nutcracker (c) Laurent Liotardo / English National Ballet

Clara, Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker leave the stage at the end of Act 1, not by a sleigh as in other versions, but via a rather unconventional yet pretty cool hot air balloon. In the second half, the traditional Nutcracker model is played about with even more. The (admittedly quite scary) Rat King, normally only seen in the early living room battles, reappears frequently throughout the second half, breaking up the magic of the Land of Sweets’ dances slightly. Usually danced by the same person, in ENB’s version, the Nutcracker and Nephew are two separate characters, which is somewhat confusing.

English National Ballet's Nutcracker (c) Laurent Liotardo

Ultimately though, you can’t go far wrong with a ballet which has a Christmas tree which gets bigger before your eyes, music which everyone will recognise, plenty of sparkles, and a heart-warming ending. One for all the family, ENB’s Nutcracker is, well, cracking.

Nutcracker, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane,  WC2N 4ES. Tickets from £10, until 10 January 2020.

Last Updated 18 December 2019