A Christmas selection box: Scottish Ballet in The Secret Theatre

December 22, 2020

David Mead

Deprived of being able to perform live this Christmas, Scottish Ballet opted not for simply streaming a film of an already in-the-can production, or even for a slimmed-down Nutcracker. Instead, artistic director Christopher Hampson teamed up with designer Lez Brotherston and film-makers Jess and Morgs (Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple) to create a new dance film, the marvellously stylish The Secret Theatre.

The story follows a young boy, Leo Tetteh, who finds himself in an apparently empty Kings Theatre, Glasgow. As he wanders through the stalls with its rows of empty red velvet seats, the building seems suspended in time as it waits for the day audiences might return. Venturing backstage, however, he discovers he company after all as characters appear from the assorted rails of costumes and storage boxes.

Grace Horler as Mazelda in The Secret TheatrePhoto Mihaela Bodlovic
Grace Horler as Mazelda in The Secret Theatre
Photo Mihaela Bodlovic

What follows is a Christmas selection box of dances. Set to a score of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, it’s a magic carpet ride (and there is really one of those in it too) through some favourite moments from Scottish Ballet’s big seasonal productions, Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker and Hampson’s The Snow Queen. With the characters introduced and proceedings directed by Bruno Micchiardi’s keen and slightly dangerous feeling Ringmaster from the latter ballet, it really is a dancing circus complete with strongman, acrobats, clowns, gypises, Jack Frosts, snowflakes and, as it’s Christmas, of course a prince and a Sugar Plum Fairy.

Some of the characters are larger than life, none more so perhaps than Nicholas Shoesmith’s strongman, looking just a little comical in his leopard print tights and giant tattoos. From The Nutcracker, Javier Andreu and Rimbaud Patron are sharp and precise in the Spanish dance, although I was less taken with the idea of three clowns dancing the Russian. The fleet-footed Thomas Edwards is all shipshape in what is described as an ‘English variation’, effectively a hornpipe. It’s a shame that Constance Devernay’s icy cold Snow Queen doesn’t get more to do. As it’s Christmas, of course the big finish has to go to the Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy, here in the shape of Jerome Anthony Barnes and Sophie Martin.

Having been whisked through one magical scene after another, it all comes to an end when Tetteh is caught in the beam of a security guard’s torch. The spell broken, he runs into the street only to find a crowd of people who look decidedly familiar.

It is all beautifully filmed and edited. Jess and Morgs’ take the viewer right in among the characters making it feel like you are there. The close-up camerawork also lets you see just how fabulous and detailed the costumes are.

Imaginatively conceived, The Secret Theatre is a delight. It is narratively lightweight, but sometimes that’s just what’s needed. Easy on the eye and the ear, it’s an hour when you can put the problems of the world outside to one side; seasonal entertainment that’s quite delicious. Just like one of those selection boxes.