Sir Peter Wright’s Birmingham Nutcracker serves up a festive treat

Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome
November 25, 2016

David Mead

Street decorations, in the shops, indeed all around us, signs of Christmas seem to arrive ever earlier, but in Birmingham you really know the festive season is really coming soon with the first sighting of Sir Peter Wright’s glorious Nutcracker. And call me an old romantic if you like, but what truly sets the Christmas feeling off for me is the magical transformation scene and the beautiful pas de deux that follows.

From the moment the clock strikes twelve and that chair starts to turn as if by magic, revealing the slightly dark and mysterious Drosselmeyer, the tingles start. As he casts his magic, that tree starts to grow and devour the whole stage; although if you think about it, what actually happens is that Clara shrinks to toy size.

Tchaikovsky’s swirling music helps of course, but the pas de deux for Clara and her Prince, after she’s niftily despatched King Rat by bashing him on the head with a pointe shoe, is full of emotion, much more so that the big Act II pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince, which is really just a show of technique, albeit a wonderful one.

Yaoqian Shang and William Bracewell in The NutcrackerPhoto Bill Cooper
Yaoqian Shang and William Bracewell in The Nutcracker
Photo Bill Cooper

Wright’s version also has a strong and easily to follow story throughout. The narrative neatly linking the two acts, something not always done. It’s not just the transformation scene, the rest of John Macfarlane’s designs are a delight too. Add some great characters and the fact that no dance outstays its welcome (if you really don’t like something, you know another dance will be along very soon), and you have a ballet that’s perfect for kids or ‘first-timers’, as well as us more gnarled balletgoers.

The whole company looked on top form. Miki Mizutani made a delightful Clara, acting and dancing with clarity and feeling throughout. Samara Downs was an elegant vision in red (and surrounded by subdued blacks and deep blues she certainly stands out). Jade Heusen and Kit Holder made for wonderfully believable grandparents.

Wright’s Clara doesn’t get to dance the Grand pas de deux. A slick piece of stagecraft sees her disappear behind Drosselmeyer’s cloak only to reappear seconds later as the Sugar Plum Fairy, in this case Yaoqian Shang, who showed all the clarity and sharpness we have come to expect from this fast-rising dancer. As the Nutcracker turned Prince, William Bracewell was suitably princely and a great partner.

Taking the eye in Act II were Céline Gittens as The Rose Fairy, and Yvette Knight, who led the Arabian dance, as smooth as the best chocolate. Hardly surprisingly, the audience lapped it all up. Even the Stahlbaum’s bedecked living room got a round of applause as the curtain first rose.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker continues at the Birmingham Hippodrome to December 13. For more details visit For booking visit or call the box office on 0844 338 5000.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.