Review: The Nutcracker, Festival Theatre

The Nutcracker **** Festival Theatre

BOLD, adventurous and beautifully crafted, Ashley Page's version of The Nutcracker for Scottish Ballet returns to the Festival Theatre for a week-long run. And it is even better than its last appearance five years ago.

This is a production which doesn't leave any of the saccharine sweet aftertaste that many traditional versions are guilty of, but which still manages to find a place for pointe shoes, tutus and a finale featuring a grand, sweeping pas de deux between young Marie and her fabulous Nutcracker Prince.

It all starts out in a very different mood, however, with the Stahlbaum family welcoming their friends for a Christmas Eve party.

The setting and costumes are pure 1920s German decadence and the mood for young Marie Stahlbaum is one of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood.

While the orchestra provide a delightfully lilting rendition of Tchaikovsky's score, the Scottish Ballet company take their time to create the characters who will both light and darken Marie's dream path.

There's so much going on, you don't know where to look. If it feels a touch too heavy on the elegantly poised setting up of the plot as the party gets into full swing, all the flirting and interaction pays back dividends later.

The family, servants and guests are played by the same dancers who will appear in the set-piece Divertissement of Act Two. By creating big, complex characters in Act One – which they then bring to the later dances – they give meaning and depth to what might be thought of as pure decoration.

Although the overall cast is the same every night, different dancers take on the principal roles at different performances. There was little to fault in the opening night's cast, however.

Claire Robertson is both knowing and questioning as Marie – her technique in the formal dances is poised and graceful but backed with great physical strength. Erik Cavallari is a strong and athletic partner as the Nutcracker Prince.

Tama Barry may seem a bit young as Drosselmeyer, the family friend who brings the doll which fires Marie's imagination and the storybook which fans those flames. However, there's nothing naive about his flirting with Eve Mutso as Frau Stahlbaum, or his clear attraction to Marie.

These attractions are necessary to make the plot work. It also makes the Act Two Arabian dance, with Barry and Mutso joined by two of the other Act One guests, particularly enthralling to watch as Mutso is manipulated around the stage by the three male dancers, but clearly remains in control.

A thoroughly satisfying production with all the high production values of set and costumes you would expect from the national company – and one that can be enjoyed both for its symbolic depiction of Marie's growing from girl to adult and for the exuberance and quality of the dancing.

Run ends Saturday