North and Shaw

Dominic North as Fritz and Ashley Shaw as Princess Sugar. Pictures: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker!

Birmingham Hippodrome


It’s ironic that during the performance of Sir Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!, the second act of which is dominated by a sweetie wonderland (more on that later), my senses wrestled with the noise of an audience member behind me eating a multitude of ‘noisy sweets’.

A pet hate of mine in the theatre (I am aware this makes me sound rather like Victor Meldrew) it was as though I had a glorious ballet in front of me and a clan of badgers ransacking a cellophane factory behind me.

It is testament to the quality of the Nutcracker! production that it emerged the victor in this battle for my attention. It is quite simply superb.

The show is playing Birmingham Hippodrome until Feb 12th with tickets priced from £22.50 (a steal for the quality on offer).

If, like me, you wondered whether the show would suffer outside of the festive period, then don’t. While it is set at Christmas, it in no way hinders being viewed when all Christmas cheer has long disappeared.

The bedrock of the show lies in the fabulous New Adventures company – with 17 of the 33 Nutcracker! company members coming through one or more of the New Adventures talent development programmes.  

enrique ngbokota 

Former Elmhurst Ballet School student, Enrique Ngbokota as a Cupid

After the pandemic and the financial strain it has put on the arts and performers, nurturing the talent of the future has never been so important. Local roots are also integral to the company with many performers coming from Edgbaston’s Elmhurst Ballet School.  

Indeed Enrique Ngbokota, himself one of Elmhurst's alumni, plays one of the Cupids and is also the inaugural apprentice on the Emerging artist apprenticeship programme – following a year's mentoring and training with New Adventures. Enrique was superb and has set an impressively high benchmark for those who follow in his footsteps in the years to come.   

Though this production jettisons large parts of the traditional Nutcracker story – spoiler, no mice or rats – it is such a joyous, magical and witty production that you find yourself swept along on the same journey of exploration as our protagonist Clara – a splendid Cordelia Braithwaite who plays the part with a mix of innocence, curiosity, determination and good old fashioned fun. She plays off the other characters with such skill that every scene she is part of is enhanced.

This is truly an ensemble piece though - I truly have not seen many shows where everyone is just so darned good.  

Danny Reubens and Daisy May Kemp bring a good dollop of panto villainy and slapstick as Dr Dross/King Sherbert and Matron/Queen Candy – whilst their cruelty has enough humour to soften any blow – it is enough to give the story a little darkness.  


Cordelia Braithwaite as Clara

Ashley Shaw and Dominic North inject a much needed dose of spite and rivalry into proceeding as Sugar/Princess Sugar and Fritz/Prince Bon-Bon.

Finally the Orphans, Marshmallow girls, Allsorts Trio and the Gobstoppers all make sure that the entertainment and quality levels never drop for a second.

Humour is a massive part of the performance with many genuinely funny bits. What I liked most was that the laughs weren’t just reserved for the main characters – the Cupids and the Humbug Bouncer being particularly amusing.

Sir Matthew Bourne’s choreography is a smorgasbord of different styles but for me, the ballet takes centre stage. At times it is breath-takingly beautiful.  

All in all it makes for an experience which flies by – aided in no small part by the fabulous world created by Anthony Ward (Set & costume designer), Howard Harrison (Lighting designer), Paul Groothuis (sound designer) and Duncan McLean (Projection designer).

Their cumulative efforts carry you from the first act’s monochrome orphanage to a veritable feast of a sweetie wonderland which looks almost good enough to eat. Coupled with the fabulous outfits from Gemma Bishop’s wardrobe team and Lizzy Rider’s team’s RuPaul ready wigs – a particular highlight being the Knickerbocker Glory’s whipped cream wig, complete with cherry on top - the audience is truly transported to another land.

With the way everyone is feeling at the moment, some escapism and a happy ending are definitely in high demand and this delivers in bucketloads.

If you can go and see this show, I recommend you do – you won’t regret it. Although you may never look at a knickerbocker glory the same way again!

To 12-02-22.

Theo Clarke


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