Review: The Nutcracker, Pentameters

“This little girl inside me is retreating to her favourite place”

Taking the fairytale novella ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ by ETA Hoffman and putting their own rather darker and Tim Burton-esque twist on things, upcoming theatre company Butterfly Wheels, Alice Old and Kayleigh Allenby, are providing an alternative way to spend Christmas with this adaptation of The Nutcracker at the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead. They aim to specialise in multi-sensory performance and production and so what we get are elements of theatre, dance, song, video and performance art fused into an abbreviated whole, the show skips through without an interval in just over an hour.

The music by Cosmos goes a long way to setting the eerie atmosphere, opting for a kind of electro-folk sonic palette which is highly effective. A remixed version of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy theme is nicely judged but I also enjoyed the live contributions from the piano and from Julia Stone’s expressive violin playing. And the design work is excellent for what is a tiny venue, huge attention to detail in a richly decorated set with its fun forced perspectives, nightmarish (well to me anyway) clowns and an amazing electrified candy-floss wig for Drosselmeir.

But whilst the creative risks taken here provide a hauntingly effective aesthetic, taking an adventurous approach to presentation requires a narrative strength that is not always present here. The story tells of little girl Marie, who receives a special present from her eccentric Godfather Drosselmeir of a Nutcracker soldier doll and who subsequently gets transported to a dream-world where they must defeat the evil Mouse King and his army with the help of her dolls. But there are layers of fantasy in here which remained too obtuse for my liking, clarity sacrificed for atmosphere too often, meaning it was sometimes hard to connect with what was going on.

Part of this is due to the source material, but part of it is also the way this show is presented. As in the ballet, where the story is by and large over and done with by the interval and the second half is mainly taken up with the various dances of the sweets, the action tends to be arrested by the multimedia interventions, rather than being seamlessly integrated. Personally I think the production would have been stronger for focusing on a smaller number of aspects and threading them through the show more rather than spreading itself thinly over several bases.

That said, it makes for a nicely different Christmas show which does not outstay its welcome, and one which ought to appeal to the more grown-up kids (probably age 7 and upwards).

Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Booking until 9th January

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