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Reviewed by Diane Parkes on Saturday 18 November.

There are few shows more Christmassy than Birmingham Royal Ballet’s festive favourite The Nutcracker. Beginning at the Christmas Eve party at the Stahlbaum family home, we then embark on a magical adventure to a fairytale world filled with colourful characters including the Four Winds, whirling Snowflakes, dancing Flowers and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Gifted to Birmingham more than 30 years ago by the then BRB director Sir Peter Wright, this production of The Nutcracker has remained a must on the city’s Christmas list ever since.

The ballet is beautiful and spectacular from beginning to end with the attention to detail from both Sir Peter and designer John Macfarlane ensuring every moment pops with magic. Remade last year with new sets and costumes, the production is a treat for the eyes from the lavish home of the Christmas party through to the sparkling snow scenes.

And with its show-stopping scenes when the Christmas tree mysteriously grows in order for the girl Clara to shrink, and the battles between rats and toy soldiers, the production never fails to draw wonder from new and accustomed audiences alike.

Reina Fuchigami is Clara, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who is taken on the mysterious adventures by the magician Drosselmeyer. Fuchigami gives us a Clara who is still a child who loves dolls, quarrels with her brother and is bright-eyed in delight at the wonders she discovers on her midnight journey. But this is also a young woman who can dance with a prince and battle rats.

Miki Mizutani is a highly accomplished Sugar Plum Fairy. Despite having some of the most challenging dancing in all of ballet, Mizutani performs with great technical skill and yet apparent ease.

Lachlan Monaghan plays The Prince with a gentle grace which exudes both charm and warmth while also meeting the strenuous technical demands of the role.

As the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Kit Holder is the ringmaster who controls the story, casting his spell over Clara and conjuring up this strange new world. Swirling around the stage in his huge cape and entertaining children with magic tricks, we are never sure if he is a benevolent or sinister presence in the tale.

It is worth seeing the production for Tchaikovsky’s stunning score alone which is mastered by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Thomas Jung.

One of the theatre highlights of the year, anyone who has not yet seen Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker should give it a go. Whether you’re a ballet lover or new to the art form, it’s the perfect ballet show for adults and children alike. Full of the magic of Christmas, it never fails to delight.

Five stars

Reviewed by Diane Parkes at Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 18 November. The Nutcracker continues to show at the venue until Saturday 9 December.


Reviewed by Sue Hull on Friday 17 November.

Welcoming in the festive season fashionably early, Birmingham Royal Ballet has this week returned to the Hippodrome stage to perform Sir Peter Wright’s critically acclaimed version of The Nutcracker. 

Created in 1990 as a thank-you to the city of Birmingham for its support of the company following its move to the Midlands from London’s Sadler Wells, Sir Peter’s production is seen by many as the finest interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score. 

In 2022 the show was enhanced by a £1million makeover, which is sumptuously reflected in the visually stunning sets and amazing special effects, props and costumes.

Set in Germany in the early 19th century, the story begins with the parents of lead character Clara (confidently portrayed throughout by Beatrice Parma) hosting a glamorous Christmas Eve party for family and friends. 

The children take centre stage and are entertained by Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (Rory Mackay, in flamboyant form), a toy maker and magician. The scene features one of my favourite costumes in the whole show - that of the jack-in-the-box, whose voluminous trousers move like springs as he dances and cavorts around the stage.

All the children excitedly receive gifts from Drosselmeyer. Clara’s is a nutcracker, carved to look like a soldier, which she absolutely loves. At the end of the party, when all the guests have gone home, the gifts which have been given to her and her brother Fritz are left under the resplendent and towering Christmas tree. 

Unable to sleep, Clara creeps downstairs for the nutcracker. Magically, on the stroke of midnight, she appears to shrink on stage to the same size as the nutcracker, at which point she is attacked by the evil and fearsome King Rat and his villainous army of repulsive rodents.

The nutcracker - who turns into a handsome prince - and the toy soldiers spring to life to defend her. A fierce battle ensues, and King Rat is defeated.

Clara is swept away by her handsome prince to the Land of Snow, where she meets the Snow Fairy, with whom she dances the Waltz Of The Snowflakes. Exquisite and enchanting, this scene is the absolute highlight of act one and brings the first half to a memorable close. As they dance, snow falls on stage, creating a beautiful winter wonderland. This is the perfect way to go into the interval, not only taking the breath away but also setting the audience up for the magic still to come. 

And come it most certainly does, albeit last night on the other side of a technical issue which caused a delay in proceedings... 

Clara rides on the back of a giant white bird to a dream-like land, and in no time at all post-interval we are all transported back into the enchanting story of The Nutcracker. 

She meets Drosselmeyer, and he introduces her to exotic people from all over the world, who dance for her. The Arabian dancers and the Chinese dance are particular highlights of this resplendent production, as is the beautiful Waltz of the Flowers. 

Although Clara is able to join in with some of the dances, it’s a curiosity of this particular ballet that a character who is so involved in the first act has to spend so much time being a bystander in the second, as others take centre stage. 

Still, no matter - the dancing is mesmerising, transporting the audience into a dreamlike state all of our own. And the show-stealing scenes absolutely do involve Clara: Drosselmeyer uses his magic to turn her into The Sugar Plum Fairy (played by the effortlessly brilliant Momoko Hirata), who is the sort of ballerina she dreams of becoming, and she and her Prince dance the grand pas de deux. Breathtaking.

As act two concludes, the dream-world vanishes and Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree with the carved Nutcracker... The story is over. The dancers have cast their spell. And the audience is left to come back down to earth and get their bearings, as though deposited at the end of a glorious, dizzying rollercoaster ride - one that most of us would no doubt have been happy to experience again straight away!      

The choreography throughout the whole performance of this most adored of festive-season treats is spectacular - and brilliantly executed by each and every dancer on the stage.

Accompanied by the very talented Royal Ballet Sinfonia (conducted by Thomas Jung), Birmingham Royal Ballet is this year once again presenting a Nutcracker that is truly enchanting and breathtakingly beautiful. 

Sir Peter Wright’s ballet very much remains what it has always been - a magical, must-see show for theatre-going dance lovers everywhere.

Five stars

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker was reviewed by Sue Hull on Friday 17 November at Birmingham Hippodrome, where it shows until Saturday 9 December.