The Nutcracker

Dec 11 2017 | By More

★★★★★     A Christmas Cracker

Festival Theatre: Sat 10 – Sat 30 Dec 2017
Review by Joe Christie

With enough spectacle and showmanship to keep kids big and small spellbound, Scottish Ballet’s revival of Peter Darrel’s Nutcracker at the Festival Theatre and on tour is the perfect Christmas present.

Radiating joy and warmth from start to finish, the latest revival of Scottish Ballet’s founding artistic director’s 1973 take on Tchaikovsky’s quintessential ballet feels like cozying up with loved ones around the fire, gazing in wonder as magic unfolds before your eyes.

Sophie Martin and Christopher Harrison. Pic: Andy Ross

The story is a festive classic. On Christmas Eve, the Colonel’s family gathers together a ragtag of esteemed and eccentric guests at their manor to reveal their immaculate tree. Events take a turn with the arrival of Drosselmeyer, a flamboyant magician who beguiles the children with his tricks—especially Clara and Fritz, the Colonel’s children.

He gives Clara a toy nutcracker, only for it to be broken by the rambunctious Fritz. When Clara falls asleep beneath the Christmas tree, on the stroke of midnight, she finds that her Nutcracker has come to life in the form of handsome Prince. After a crusade to defeat the evil King of the Rats, she is rewarded for her efforts with a trip to the Land of the Sweets, where incredible entertainments from far-off lands await her.

Any worries that the sparse narrative beats of the story might cause attention to dither in the weans are quickly nipped in the bud: Peter Darrel’s production is endowed with such imaginative sweep that half the pleasure comes from soaking up the beautiful atmospherics and fizzy excitement of all the theatrics.

If the choreography and story take a little while to heat up during the extended prologue, the humbler beginnings let you fully appreciate Lez Brotherston’s design, which looks as if it had been ripped from the pages of your favourite pop-up storybook.

a constellation of sparkles

The layered drapes which adorn the stage give it beautiful depth. They frame a setting lit up by the stunning, intricate costumes, inspired by late 19th century origins of the ballet—a combination of decadent fabrics, haughty silhouettes and a constellation of sparkles.

The Land of Frost and Snow. Pic: Andy Ross

In act two, Brotherston ups-the-ante further with a mind-boggling display: around 5,500 baubles on 250 strings arching over the stage conjures the Land of Sweets. And like a whole host of elements in this revival, the costumes of the various cultural players that meet in this magical realm make fresh what could feel tired; they are playful, idiosyncratic and without a trace of lazy stereotyping.

The other real innovation of Darrel’s interpretation is having child performers play the child roles. Where other companies often veer away from this riskier choice, it is hard to imagine as much exuberance or infectious fun without their youthful presence on stage. Not to mention the serious talent they display. If this is a hint of what’s to come, the future of Scottish ballet looks secure.

The adults aren’t too shabby, either. The ensemble focus on characterisation is welcome. It colours the choreography and gives it an extra pop. Nicholas Shoesmith’s Drosselmeyer is a beguiling presence, with a deft hand for tricks. Marge Hendrick has a sultry poise as the Arabian dancer; and Thomas Edwards brings a determined vigour as her stiff-upper-lip English counterpart.

As it should be in any great Nutcracker, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a bonafide showstopper. The famous pas de deux is done wonderful justice by principals Christopher Harrison as the Nutcracker Prince and Sophie Martin  as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Harrison and Martin don’t put a foot wrong: strong, yet delicate; expressive without sacrificing a modicum of technical finesse. A bravura turn, that lives up to Tchaikovsky’s iconic music, performed with brio throughout by the repertory orchestra under the conductorship of Jean-Claude Picard.

As a celebration of the story, the score, the season and so much more, Scottish Ballet’s Nutcracker is a real gift. It’s a selection box with a little something for everyone: variety, sweetness, dazzle, and, everything unwrapped, it’s a wonderful showcase of the state of our nation’s dance talent.

Running time two hours (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Saturday 10 – Saturday 30 December  2017
Weds – Sat evenings 7.30pm; Matinees: Thurs 21 & 28, Fri, Sat: 2.30pm. Sun 10, 17: 3pm, Sun 24: 2pm.
Tickets from

Scottish Ballet website:


Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker on tour 2017/18
Sat 10 – Sat 30 Dec 2017 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Thurs 4 – Sat 13 Jan 2018 Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
Wed 17 – Sat 20 Jan 2018 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
Wed 24 – Sat 27 Jan2018 Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234 234 Book online
Wed 31 Jan – Sat 3 Feb 2018 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online


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