The Nutcracker review at Royal Opera House – ‘fresh and reinvigorated’
Nutcrackers come and Nutcrackers go but the Royal Ballet's version is a hardy perennial. Peter Wright's version of Lev Ivanov's original 1892 ballet has undergone changes since its debut in 1984 but it remains the one by which all others must be judged.
Following last year's sluggish production this year's outing looks fresh and reinvigorated. Act I is far more focused and intimate with telling details enhanced – like the moment Mrs Stahlbaum snubs the Dancing Mistress on her arrival at the party and the way Clara gives the Mouse King a really good thumping at the end of the battle.
These are grace notes that sharpen character and invite speculation on what lies beneath the glittering surface of the greatest Christmas ballet ever realised. If the orchestra seems a little muted under Boris Gruzin it rises to the occasion during the transformation scene which has rarely seemed so magical; as the tree grows upwards I had a real sense that Clara was shrinking like Alice in her Wonderland. Francesca Hayward dances like a dream child as Clara, expressive, musical and guileless and is ably partnered by Alexander Campbell as Hans-Peter. He may not have her elevation but she looks safe in his arms in their pas de deux and that's all that really matters here.
Christina Arestis and Luca Acri bring a new dimension to their roles as Dancing Mistress and Drosselmeyer's assistant while Gary Avis pitches Dosselmeyer himself somewhere between Prospero and a Las Vegas magician. It is perfectly poised and his continued presence throughout emphasises his control over the fantasy and the conjurations.
The involvement of Clara and Hans-Peter in the Act II divertissements is most welcome and stops them from being mere spectators. The Russian Dance is suitably rumbustious and the Arabian Dance exudes a perfumed sensuality. The Chinese Dance has been altered to be less of a caricature but has lost some humour in the process. But the grand pas de deux with Sugar Plum Fairy (Lauren Cuthbertson) and The Prince (Federico Bonelli) to Tchaikovsky's wonderful cascading notes is a real showstopper and the Snowflakes have a well-drilled delicacy that delights and impresses.
At the curtain, Sir Peter Wright took the stage as flowers rained down and a birthday cake was wheeled on to mark his 90th birthday. Truly, a memorable night.