Review: The Nutcracker at The O2

Picture: Nigel Norrington

December has been a month of variety at The O2. Megastar Rihanna entertained thousands earlier this month, but the venue is currently playing host to a rather quieter show – and one that involves its stars wearing a lot more clothing.

Following the success earlier this year of The Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, The O2 is having a second go at ballet by hosting the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

Telling the story of Clara, who dreams a Nutcracker doll she has been given is brought to life, the ballet is full of gorgeous dance sequences, stunning costumes and scenery, and the magic that makes many a little girl want to be a ballerina.

Seeing a ballet in an arena is, I imagine, very different to seeing it in a smaller theatre, but having never seen a ballet before it’s all a new experience. What strikes me first is the diverse crowd, from older couples to ballet aficionados to cute little girls dressed in their pink tutus.

The large venue barely distracts from what is happening on stage. The sound of the fantastic orchestra carries throughout the arena, and despite the crowd of people surrounding me I feel like I’m the only one in the room, caught up in the world of Clara, the Nutcracker doll, the King of the rats, the magician Drosselmeyer and a host of dancers.

The set changes are brilliant, as the scene goes from Clara’s living room to a battleground where the rats fight the toy soldiers. It all seems so smoothly and easily done, you can forget there’s probably a dozen people backstage and months of work that have gone into it all. The highlight of act one is the closing sequence, after the Nutcracker has come back to life as the handsome Prince and leads Clara into the land of snow. With snow falling from the rafters the scene is set perfectly for a magical second act.

When the ballet reopens Clara, and the audience, are transported to a fantastic world conjured up by Drosselmeyer, who shows off dancers from different lands before turning Clara into the Sugar Plum Fairy. Barely has one round of applause finished before another starts, letting the dancers know their (jawdropping) talents are appreciated. When Clara wakes up by the fire, her dream ended, it’s hard not to let out a sigh of disappointment that it’s all over.

Although this is a brilliant production, it does have one major flaw – the depth of the stage. With The O2 arena being such a large venue, it comes with a huge stage, the front quarter of which is ignored for 98 per cent of the production. The vast amount of space between the dancers and the orchestra distracts me, and I spend a lot of time wishing the action would move to the front. The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker played to audiences in its home city before coming to The O2, and perhaps the stage there was not so deep. Here, I didn’t see the point in having such a large space if it wasn’t going to be used used properly. The wasted depth at the front also meant that I was forced to watch some of the action at the back of the stage on the large video screen, which I would have preferred not to do.

Despite its flaws overall this was a great introduction to ballet, and it made me want to see more productions, albeit next time in a more intimate venue.

The Nutcracker is at The O2 until December 30. For more information and to buy tickets click here.

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