The Nutcracker at Bristol Old Vic: ‘A magical Christmas show that crackles and pops with festive spirit’

‘This enchanting production is more about the story behind the classic Christmas ballet’
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There’s a glittery white tree, a flurry of snow and plenty of presents on stage, but that’s about as genuinely Christmassy as the Old Vic’s festive offering gets this year.

Anybody expecting ballerinas and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy may feel disappointed, too, but then this rewired version of The Nutcracker thrills on so many other levels.

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Written by the Old Vic’s outgoing artistic director Tom Morris and composer, lyricist and singer extraordinaire Gwyneth Herbert, this enchanting production is more about the story behind the classic Christmas ballet.

The Old Vic’s Christmas shows have always provided a counterpoint to the traditional pantomimes at the Hippodrome, and attracted a different audience.

There are no risqué double entendres, singalongs or audience participation here (apart from a few sweets thrown into the stalls at one point), and the fact it is advertised as for children aged 7+ means that toddlers won’t get to see it.

Although still family-friendly, the storyline bobs and weaves so much that I don’t mind admitting I lost my thread a few times and there are a few dark moments in keeping with the original 19th Century story. One man in the row behind me commented to his friend that he wouldn’t be able to bring his grandson as he would be ‘too spooked’.

The Nutcracker is this year’s Bristol Old Vic Christmas production (photo: Geraint Lewis)The Nutcracker is this year’s Bristol Old Vic Christmas production (photo: Geraint Lewis)
The Nutcracker is this year’s Bristol Old Vic Christmas production (photo: Geraint Lewis)
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Making his Old Vic stage debut, Denzel Baidoo (Nutcracker) shows huge promise for the future and is testament to time spent working under Tom Morris, who ends his 13 years at the theatre this month. Baidoo’s body popping dance moves may also secure him a place on Strictly one day.

Mae Munuo is an endearing Claire, who starts by obsessing over her imaginary unicorn and then sees her toys comes to life, including an Action Man played by Guy Hughes, who also plays her brother, Eddie.

But it is Old Vic stalwart Tristan Sturrock as Mr Choke, who shines brightest on stage. Making a welcome return to the theatre after notable TV and film appearances including the new Harry Styles film, My Policeman, Sturrock cruises through his role as the quirky clockmaker with perfect comic timing and an immediate repartee with the audience. He’s a class act.

Traditionalists will still be relieved to see a Mouse King and plenty of magical toys that come to life when the adults are asleep.

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Although director Lee Lyford’s polished production weaves a very different spell to the familiar ballet version of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s timeless tale, this magical Christmas show crackles and pops with heartwarming festive spirit.

The Nutcracker is at Bristol Old Vic until January 7. For tickets, click here.

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