Review: English National Ballet – The Nutcracker, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, November 29

Review: English National Ballet – The Nutcracker, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, November 29

By Joy McKay.

It really felt like Christmas as I arrived at The Mayflower, it was frosty and dark outside but the foyer was particularly warm and welcoming festooned with Christmas trees (29/11/23). I very much of the opinion decorations in November are too early but on this occasion, for The Nutcracker, it was more than appropriate. And it seemed everyone was feeling festive. As I made my way to my seat, small children ran around in the sparkliest finest outfits accompanied by several generations of their family. You could tell this was, or would become an annual tradition. And seeing a production of The Nutracker performed is that for many people, a true Christmas tradition.

As I settled into my chair,enjoying the sounds of the orchestra warming up, I pretty much knew what was in store. I love Tchaikovsky’s score, a ubiquitous soundtrack of the season, and as the first notes were played I was excited to meet a new Clara, joining her on her magical adventure. This production of the ballet was first choreographed by Wayne Eagling in 2010 but this revived version from 2021 I had not seen before.

The story starts with Clara in her bedroom getting ready for a party with her family. As the set changes for us to watch the guests arrive we are set in time and place. It’s a snowy Edwardian London and outside people are ice skating on the Thames. Once the party starts a rather strange guest, Dr Drosselmeyer, delights the children with magic and a puppet show before giving them all Christmas presents. Clara receives, oddly, a nutcracker in the shape of a soldier, but she loves it!

And that is possibly as much of Clara’s story I am willing to share. The set design and staging is very traditional but there are some such delightful details and devices, describing any would take away some of the wonder of discovering them for yourself.

The dancers are technically brilliant. Clara (Fernada Oliviera) is partnered perfectly with her male leads Aitor Arrieta and Henry Dowden, performing some impressive lifts with the latter. James Streeter has just the right balance of creepy and charming to entertain without scaring the children.

Everyone in the audience enjoyed the show and with its familiar music and short set pieces it really is an experience suitable for all ages. The Nutcracker is always enchanting but English National Ballet have added an extra layer if magic. If you haven’t already established this festive tradition now is a great time to start.

As I’m writing this review on a train it has just started snowing outside, maybe Drosselmeyer is sprinkling his magic still?

Tickets for English National Ballet’s Nutcracker (Wednesday 29 November– Saturday 2 December 2023) are on sale at or 02380 711811.

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