MOST of us come to Hoffman’s story of The Nutcracker via the ballet and spectacular productions replete with Tchaikovsky’s music, sugar plum fairies and Christmas trees that start from a dot centre stage and rise to fill the space to the very top.
But it’s a darker and more magical story that Hattie Naylor and Paul Dodgson tell at the Nuffield this year, full of insight and invention – from the moment that Uncle Drosselmeier and his assistants make their way through the auditorium to concoct their latest potion to the song of the happy ending.
Travelling back through time, Clara’s psyche is explored, and the eccentric uncle who turns up at Christmas is her portal between the reality of her life and a fantasy world full of cursing mice and living dolls.
By the end of the exciting evening, even the unbelievers are left asking which was the truth and which the fiction.
There are new musical arrangements by Malcolm Newton, who joins the actors on stage to play a variety of instruments, changing the mood at the beat of a foot.
With masks and puppets created by Max Humphries, Rhys Jarman’s versatile set and a crescendo of magical images, it’s a show full of magic to appeal to all ages.
This is no pantomime, but that essential ingredient of audience participation comes at just the right moment, adding to the excitement of the story.
The multi-talented cast of eight are singers, dancers, actors and musicians, many of them familiar faces on stages in the south and west.
Polish actor, dancer and director Krystian Godlewski hits just the right note as Drosselmeier, a humorous, passionate shape-shifter whose stories change to suit the moment, but who knows he can rely on Clara to look after his favourite creation, the Nutcracker of the title.
Sandy Batchelor is a handsome and loveable Elias, like an eager young Chris Hoy, and Hannah Lee doubles up as Clara and the evil Mauselink.
There’s a chillingly funny performance by John Biddle as Kurt the Mouse King, and Bristol favourite Saskia Portway is the troubled and not-so-wicked step mother.
The Nuffield Nutcracker starts slowly, but surreptitiously winds its audience into the mix of fun, fear, mystery and romance.
It’s a winner.