“A scintillating production which is absolutely spot on. A perfect tonic for grey winter days and an excellent introduction to classical ballet”
There could be no more perfect ballet for the beginning of the Christmas season than the eternally popular Nutcracker, first performed in 1892 with a sparkling score by Tchaikovsky. This week Windsor Theatre Royal has a brief residency by the Vienna Festival Ballet, which is touring the production extensively until the middle of December.
The company was founded in Brighton in 1980. Its artistic director Peter Mallek named it after his home town where he danced leading roles with the State Opera. The company receives no subsidy and specialises in touring the grand classical works, amongst them Swan Lake, Cinderella and Snow White. Forget Matthew Bourne and expect pointe shoes, pirouettes and arabesques and grands jetés. The costumes are sumptuous and include designs by Vonnie Meyrick-Brook (Harry Potter and Skyfall). The choreography is the company’s own, in a revision by Emily Hufton of a version from 1981 by Uruguayan Ruben Echeverria who studied with the Bolshoi.
The ballet begins with a child’s Christmas party at which Anna is presented with a nutcracker doll by her mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer (performed by the impressive Dario Sanz Yagüe). At midnight the toy is transformed into a dashing prince who leads her on a series of entrancing adventures, culminating in a breathtaking sequence of dramatic set pieces at which she meets a series of visitors from all corners of the globe.
Tchaikovsky’s romantic music is here presented in a recording. The composer, who struggled to like the ballet, extracted a very popular orchestral suite from the ballet score. It contains a handful of lush and instantly recognisable tunes, by no means least amongst them The Dance of the Reed Pipes, once used by Cadbury to sell its fruit and nut chocolate.
A young and energetic company drawn from around the world perform magnificently in a scintillating production which is absolutely spot on. A perfect tonic for grey winter days and an excellent introduction to classical ballet.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Theatre Royal Windsor until 16th November then UK tour continues
“very funny with a great cast served up in a pleasing package”
What’s in a Name? In this case it’s the motor for an evening of smart, snappy comedy about a dinner party that spirals hopelessly out of control when a daft joke about a baby’s name leads to some devastating family revelations.
With over 100 productions since 2010 in 22 languages and 30+ countries, this play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière is big box office, with a string of awards to its credit. It’s also a successful film, under its French title Le Prénom. The five characters – a brother and sister, their partners and one secretive childhood friend – all get big moments in this tight ensemble piece that’s full of witty one-liners.
Joe Thomas (best known as Simon in E4’s The Inbetweeners) is the first on stage with a rapid commentary on the action that’s about to unfold. He gives a high energy performance as Vincent, a cocky, Daily Mail reading wide-boy who’s made a packet out of property. He’s a perfect foil for his earnest professorial brother-in-law (RADA-trained Bo Poraj, Mike in Miranda). Laura Patch turns things up a notch when she gets her own back on the sparring males, who are too busy arguing to pay attention to her struggles with the tagine. Alex Gaumond is a quiet trombonist who gets to spring the biggest surprise, to the consternation of the rest of the cast including the stylishly pregnant Summer Strallen as Vincent’s wife.
The home truths served up at this spicy dinner party gone wrong kept the audience amused last night, but was there any meat on the elegant bones? The production premiered at the Birmingham Rep in 2017 and is here directed, with a new cast, by its translator, Jeremy Sams. He’s anglicised a particularly Parisian text (everyone here knows Benjamin Constant’s 1815 novel Adolphe) that’s peppered with just the kind of philosophical wordplay that French intellectuals love. But he’s set it not in the 20th arrondissement but in a Peckham warehouse conversion. There’s more swearing and class differentiation than you’d expect among Parisian academics, and the play occupies a slightly uneasy space somewhere between Yasmina Reza’s Art and one of Alan Ayckbourn’s social satires.
What’s in a Name is very funny with a great cast served up in a pleasing package (a clever and satisfyingly detailed set by Francis O’Connor). But this light soufflé of a play ultimately left me wanting a bit more substance.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Piers Foley
What’s in a Name?
Theatre Royal Windsor until 9th November then UK tour continues