Tag Archives: Tim Hodges



Tuff Nutt Jazz Club 

NUTCRACKER at the Tuff Nutt Jazz Club 



“McOnie’s clarity of vision and impeccable execution results in a production that is fun, fanciful, and doesn’t take itself too seriously”

Entering the Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, squirrelled away underneath the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank, you can already tell you’re in for a treat of a production. A cool terrazzo topped bar awash with warm and inviting diffuse lighting greets you whilst upbeat, mildly festive jazz plays through the speakers to get you in to the spirit for one of dance’s quintessential Christmas favourites, reimagined.

Director-Choreographer Drew McOnie has devised a fresh and modern take on the classic ballet that maintains much of the structure but plays with form. Rather than Clara, we have Clive, who is waiting for Christmas in his small flat with his financially stressed father who would rather Clive played with Action Man than the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree. These two do not understand each other, but over the course of the next hour, through fantastical imaginings in Clive’s dreams, they come closer together.

Part of The Nutcracker’s enduring legacy is Tchaikovsky’s 19th century score, with key pieces, such as the dance of the sugar plum fairy, instantly recognisable and memorable. In McOnie’s production, these classical pieces are interpreted with a jazz influence by composer Cassie Kinoshi. Many of the most-loved refrains still drive the score, but are saxophone forward, reflecting the composer’s own instrument of choice. The four piece band, casually dressed in pyjamas, are perched on a small stage at the top of the club and are a pleasure to watch alongside the main action of the dancers.

But it is, of course, the dancers that take centre stage. Mark Samaras is utterly charming in the lead role of Clive, believable as a young boy all wide-eyed with wonder, whilst displaying a maturity of movement through self-assured rhythm and flow, all the more impressive given he is covering the role due to injury. Amonik Melaco as the modern nutcracker, Action Man, gives us a convincing transition from stereotypical masculinity to a more nuanced and fluid expression. His pas-de-deux with Sugar Plum Patricia Zhou towards the emotional climax of the piece is uplifting, physically and spiritually. The small cast of six are all strong and supple with heaps of charisma, each bringing a unique flavour, quite literally, to the piece.

“a sense of excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat”

A large part of what makes McOnie’s production so engaging is the intimacy afforded to it through the jazz club setting meaning you are close enough to see the sweat and catch a wink from the ensemble. There’s also tongue-in-cheek humour employed in unexpected ways. An interlude after the entry to Dreamland and the Waltz of the Snowflakes sees two of the snowflakes, in sequins and ski goggles, re-enter the stage with gold foiled leaf blowers to clear the confetti snow to a muzak version of the previous piece. Those faint of heart beware the front row! The leaps and bounds of the performers will be a whiskers width from you, but do not fear – these dancers are so in tune with their bodies there will be no risk of a collision, only a sense of excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat.

It all comes together as a beautifully constructed and almost immersive production. Set and venue design by Soutra Gilmour and costume by Ryan Dawson Laight are a real mash up of eras and styles with orange and brown tones screaming 1970s, contrasting with the bubblegum brights and sequins of Dreamland. The combination gives a familiarity of the festive season whilst keeping it contemporary and in line with the themes of the piece.

Reinterpreting such an iconic piece may appear a daunting task, but McOnie’s clarity of vision and impeccable execution results in a production that is fun, fanciful, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, whilst still employing the highest standards of creativity and artistry. A jolly production to kick off the festive season.

NUTCRACKER at the Tuff Nutt Jazz Club 

Reviewed on 4th November 2023

by Amber Woodward

Photography by Mark Senior





Five star reviews from October:


Dear England | ★★★★★ | Prince Edward Theatre | October 2023
Elephant | ★★★★★ | Bush Theatre | October 2023
The Least We Could Do | ★★★★★ | Hope Theatre | October 2023
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane | ★★★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre | October 2023
This Is Not A Circus: 360 | ★★★★★ | Jacksons Lane | October 2023



Click here to read all our latest reviews


Man of la Mancha

London Coliseum

Man of la Mancha

Man of la Mancha

London Coliseum

Reviewed – 30th April 2019



“the real star of the show, is Danielle De Niese …her voice soars and enchants with a lilting sweetness and strength”


Man of La Mancha is set in a Detention Centre and begins with the arrival of two new prisoners, Cervantes and his manservant. They have a trunk with them, and the inmates are keen to plunder it. The Governor, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, wants to put Cervantes on trial and confiscate his belongings if he is found guilty, and Cervantes makes his defence in the form of a play; Don Quixote. The Don tilts at windmills and falls in courtly love with Aldonza, a serving girl and part time prostitute in a roadside inn, who he sees as a perfect woman and names his Lady Duncinea. Cervantes casts the other inmates in various roles, and the Governor plays the innkeeper, giving Lyndhurst the opportunity to switch from forbidding to gently incompetent, which he does with skill and evident enjoyment. Cervantes’ manservant and Don Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza are played by Peter Polycarpou, and he is one of the show’s delights. He is funny and touching in his devotion to the eccentric knight, and to his ‘real’ master.

The other delight, and the real star of the show, is Danielle De Niese who plays Aldonza/Dulcinea. She is fiery, strong and vulnerable, angry at Quixote’s refusal to see her for who she really is, coping with the rough muleteers in the inn, who eventually brutalise her, and very touching at the end when she accepts the name Dulcinea for the first time and starts the spine tinglingly beautiful cast version of The Impossible Dream. Her voice soars and enchants with a lilting sweetness and strength, and her acting is powerful and compelling.

It is Kelsey Grammer’s misfortune to be surrounded by a cast of hugely talented singers. His Cervantes/Quixote is engaging and hugely characterful; on the acting front he doesn’t put a foot wrong, but his voice doesn’t stand up well against virtuoso talent such as De Niese. His rendition of ‘Dulcinea’ felt insecure and in his solo ‘Impossible Dream’ he seemed to be bracing himself for the top notes. When the muleteers sing ‘Little Bird’ it is evident that there are some fabulous voices in the ensemble; this is a very strong cast. Emanuel Alba deserves a mention for his lovely comic turn as the barber, and Eugene McCoy’s Duke has a nice touch of the Lucius Malfoys when we first see him.

As you would expect of the Coliseum, the set, lighting and sound, by James Noone, Rick Fisher and Mick Potter respectively, are superb. Rebecca Howell is the choreographer, and she has created some exceptional work, such as the electrifying gypsy dance, for this piece. Fight Director Kate Waters produced a lovely comedy fracas at the inn, and Fotini Dimou’s costume design allows for some impressively quick changes and helps create a convincing world within Noone’s set.

The story of Don Quixote is a love song to the imagination and Man of La Mancha takes us into a double world. Do we prefer the reality or the fantasy? Each of us has to decide for ourselves, but Quixote’s fantasy world has a purity and beauty that entices and enchants.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Man of la Mancha

London Coliseum until 8th June


Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
The Dame | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | January 2019
Boots | ★★★★ | The Bunker | February 2019
Gently Down The Stream | ★★★★★ | Park Theatre | February 2019
Inspirit | ★★★★ | Vaulty Towers | February 2019
10 | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2019
The Thread | ★★½ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | March 2019
Yamato – Passion | ★★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | March 2019
Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough | ★★½ | Park Theatre | April 2019
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | April 2019
Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare: The Taming Of The Shrew | ★★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | April 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com