mon 22/07/2024

Nutcracker, Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, Royal Festival Hall review - a fresh, compelling, adult take on a festive favourite | reviews, news & interviews

Nutcracker, Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, Royal Festival Hall review - a fresh, compelling, adult take on a festive favourite

Nutcracker, Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, Royal Festival Hall review - a fresh, compelling, adult take on a festive favourite

Drew McOnie offers a fresh coming-of-age twist in a compact new jazz version

Tuff Nutt: Sam Salter as Clive in Drew McOnie's 'Nutcracker'Images - Mark Senior

Intimacy isn’t everything, but there’s nothing like seeing dance live and up close. A good seat in a large theatre will give you the whole stage picture but lose the detail. Lost too will be that quasi-visceral connection with the movement.

A fascinating academic study found that the brains of people watching dance, presuming they are paying attention and not checking their phones, transmit messages to the appropriate muscles as if to prompt a sympathetic mirror dance. We don’t generally act on these messages (imagine the scenes if we did) but subliminally they are there, urging our emotional engagement, letting us in on the physical experience.

The repurposed ground-floor cafeteria at the back of the Festival Hall is a good place to try this out. Drew McOnie’s scaled-down spin on The Nutcracker is so up-close and personal that you feel the displacement of air as the dancers whisk by. You see the sweat, the stitching on the costumes, the sinewy stretch and snap of every step and you feel – truly, you do, you get the full hot blast – of the dancers’ energy. It’s a miracle they don’t knock over anyone’s drink.

Soutra Gilmour has designed the space as a snug, dim, pink-and-orange-lit nightclub with an open-plan bar, a tramway for a stage, raked seating and just enough space for a four-piece band dressed in pyjamas. Although most of the familiar Tchaikovsky melodies turn up at some point in the course of the show’s 55 minutes (half the length of the original), Cassie Kinoshi’s jazz score is a comprehensive makeover. You might find it hard to imagine the dainty fluting "Dance of the Mirlitons" (aka “Everyone’s a Fruit-and-Nutcake”) transposed to alto sax but curiously enough, it works, as does a smoky, cabaret-style vocal in place of the prim girls’ choir in the snow scene. In terms of its assault on a cherished classic, shifting the action from an haute-bourgeoise 1830s German household to a shabby 1970s British semi is no more startling than the sassy sonic makeover.Chanelle Anthony as the orange cocktail in NutcrackerAs with all the best updatings, McOnie’s take on Nutcracker plays with details but retains the narrative shape. Replacing Clara with Clive, the single child of a single dad, it remains a night-before-Christmas story in which the presents around the tree infiltrate an adolescent’s dreams to give a glimpse of adult life to come. But whereas Clara’s sexual awakening is deeply sublimated, in the case of Clive it’s urgent and vivid. Rejecting the Action Man toy his dad has given him, he’s more interested in the sparkly doll at the top of the tree. Both toys turn up large as life in Dreamland where Clive (Sam Salter in the cast I saw), dressed like Batman’s Boy Robin in tiny shorts and a short shiny cape, is agog at the overt sexuality of Patricia Zhou’s spicy fairy and Amonik Melaco’s seriously ripped Action Man. The twist in the story is not Clive’s discovery that he is gay – he’d already worked that out – but that he can be himself and make friends and influence people too. After a few rounds of absurd tough-guy posing, even Action Man is persuaded to throw off his khaki gear and try some shimmying moves, while the fairy welcomes Clive as a soulmate.

The original Land of Sweets variations – so often problematic – are replaced by a sequence prompted by the ingestion of luridly coloured cocktails (Chanelle Anthony embodies the swirly orange one, pictured above). As Action Man and Clive sip each in turn, a different eye-popping experience rolls out: a tango couple slinking about in red satin, chic ski-ers prettily scattering snow and a crazy yellow imp doing crazy impish things. How can Clive’s waking life ever compare?

Yet McOnie has one further twist to wring from the Nutcracker theme. In a moving spoken finale Clive’s father – over-worked, distracted, a far-from-perfect parent – is shown to have undergone the biggest transformation of all. Eight dancers and four musicians can’t hope to match the splendour of Nutcrackers currently showing at the Royal Opera House, the Coliseum, Birmingham Hippodrome and elsewhere. But for heart and guts and vim they absolutely nail it.

As with all the best updatings, McOnie’s take on Nutcracker plays with details but retains the narrative shape

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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