Pros: The beautiful set and some sterling performances make this festive family show truly magical.
Cons: The storyline was somewhat disjointed at times but did not really detract from my enjoyment of the play.
This beautiful adaptation of ETA Hoffman’s enchanting tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King whisks its audience into lands of adventure, danger and delight. Writer Annie Siddons loved Hoffman so much that she included his character as the narrator, and he warns the audience before the play begins that there will be no dancing involved. ETA Hoffman’s story is best known as the basis for Tchaikovsky’s ballet but this new interpretation of the classic tale lacks nothing, despite the lack of choreography. It’s Christmas Eve 1805 and seven-year-old Marie is given an old nutcracker by her eccentric uncle Drosselmeier. At midnight, the nutcracker comes alive and the two embark on a dangerous and thrilling journey to defeat the evil, seven-headed mouse king. It’s a production for young audiences (8+) from the Unicorn Theatre, and will enchant children and leave adults yearning for that lost childish sense of imagination that was able to take us into magical worlds instantly.
There are some brilliant performances, most notably by Akiya Henry who brings a beautiful lightness and cheer to the stage as the determined and misunderstood Marie, and Sandy Grierson as the dry-humoured and wry Hoffman. There are some genuinely terrifying moments when the huge mouse king with his seven heads and fourteen red eyes attempt to drag Marie and her allies, the toys, into his black hole. Also there’s a wonderful scene change in Act II that reveals the whole stage and turns a subdued Germanic Christmas scene into a glowing Willy-Wonka-esque candy land where children’s sweet-toothed dreams come true.
The plot is as exciting as it is surreal, despite being a bit disjointed at times, with three – or really, four – different storylines rendering the play somewhat patchy and confusing. That said, the children in the audience did not seem to mind in the least, as they sat spellbound as Marie and her brother Fritz hear the story of the hideous Princess Pearly Pat, the curse of Queen Mouserink, and the trip around the world to find the nut that would save the princess’s face and fate.
I also absolutely loved the set design by James Button, which conjured up images of sophisticated German cuckoo clocks where little figures revolve around a wooden platform on the hour, and some of the props such as Drosselmeier’s cat and the complicated mousetrap machinery. If you’re still wondering what to give the children in your life for Christmas, look no further.
Author: Annie Siddons
Director: Ellen McDougall
Producer: Unicorn Theatre
Box Office: 020 7645 0560
Booking Link: https://www.unicorntheatre.com/whatson/69/more-dates
Booking Until: 4 January 2015