clara doorbar

Karla Doorbar as ballet student Clara. Picture: Bill Cooper

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


Guilty pleasures. We all have them and this is one of mine. It’s not just the performance, splendid as it always is, but what it represents, it is the harbinger of Christmas, lifting the gloom of winter for a few weeks with its warm glow of happiness.

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Sir Peter Wright’s world-renowned version, given to the city in 1990 as a present from the then newly arrived Birmingham Royal Ballet and it has thrilled and enchanted in equal measure ever since, children at that first performance bringing their own children today.

It helps, of course, to have Tchaikovsky’s symphonic score, played quite beautifully, as always, by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy, and John Macfarlane’s magnificent set and costumes, the cost of which would be beyond the budget of most ballet companies in the world these days – it really is that good.

Then there are the dancers, who seem to enjoy the ballet as much as the audience led by Stoke-on-Trent’s Karla Doorbar as the 15-year-old ballet student Clara – a role she has made her own since I first saw her dance it in 2014. The student has learned well it seems as she dances the role with a mix of teen innocence and supreme confidence.

Chile’s César Morales provided a dashing and athletic prince making it all look so easy and combining well with Clara and in the final pas de deux with The Sugar Plum Fairy.

This was to have been Momoko Hirata but a late withdrawal through illness saw another Japanese ballerina, Miki Mizutani in the role, and she did not disappoint with delicate, precise feet and a delightful charm.


Clara is confronted by The King Rat and his cohorts emerging from the giant fireplace

We open on Christmas Eve in the splendid home of Clara’s father, Dr Stahlbaum (Wolfgang Stollwitzer) and his wife, a former ballerina, danced by Delia Mathews, along with Clara’s brother Fritz, danced by Joseph Burdett, from Plymouth, a 13-year-old year 9 pupil from BRB’s associated Elmhurst Ballet School.

It is a role he shares with 11-year-old Wesley Mpakati from Tyseley, Birmingham, a year 7 pupil. Incidentally other Elmhurst pupils among the children include Holly Guiney (Year 7) from London; Leo Luscombe (Year 7) from Plymouth; Benedict Harrison (Year 8) from Bromsgrove; and Thomas Kujawa (Year 9) from Isle of Wight along with students from The Royal Ballet School.

Burdett dances the role of Fritz with a suitably annoying petulance and peevishness as he tries to grab and then finally breaks his sister’s present of a Nutcracker doll.

Luckily Jonathan Payn’s magician Drosselmeyer is on hand to repair the damage and introduce Harlequin (Aitor Galende), Columbine (Maureya Lebowitz) and Jack-in-the-box (Tzu-Chao Chou) for their party pieces.

The end of the party brings one of the finest scene transformations you will ever see in a theatre from the days before CGI and electronics as the Christmas tree grows in size, toy soldiers become life size, the fireplace grows into a fiery cave and Drosselmeyer’s toy rat becomes The Rat King (Brandon Lawrence) battling the Nutcracker Doll (Max Maslen) who in turn evolves into Morales’s prince as Clara, in a dream, returns to the changing living room. All a bit sinister at first.

It is a transformation which demands immaculate timing and precision from the well rehearsed stage crew with every wall and layer of the flies involved. I am always amazed that people watch this technically challenging piece of theatre magic in near silence yet a simple swan, flapping its wings and flying Clara across the stage at the opening of Act Two gets rapturous applause . . . never work with animals they say.

Rats defeated, the transformation continues to take us to the Land of Snow and Samara Downs’ Snow Queen dancing with the four winds and her attendants in a veritable blizzard.

We open Act Two with the much lauded swan to find the flamboyant Drosselmeyer as the MC for a selection of dances from around the world; Spain (Maureya Lebowitz, Gabriel Anderson and Tim Dutson), China ( Max Maslen and Lachlan Monaghan), Russia (Aitor Galende, Gus Payne and Joseph Taylor) and The Mirlitons (Laura Day, Reina Fuchigami, Beatrice Parma and Lynsey Sutherland).

The highlight was the Arabian dance, which must have been a bit of a shock to young Clara to find her mother, New Zealander Delia Mathews again, along with Miles Gilliver, Lennert Steegen and Alexander Yap, turning eroticism into an art form. Slow, sultry music, slow, sultry dancing and you don’t get much more sensuous than this.

Which brings us to The Snow Fairy, danced beautifully again by Céline Gittens, and the well-known Dance of the Flowers with leading flowers Yaoqian Shang, Alys Shee, Eilis Small and Yijing Zhang before the final, beautifully danced grand pas de deux,

 The dream over we have the final transformation scene, another bit of scenic magic, to leave us with just Clara, the Christmas tree, her Nutcracker doll and an empty living room. Sir Peter's glorious present is not only a superb ballet, it has become a festive tradition which never falters or disappoints - once the house lights dim and the overture rises from the orchestra pit, Birmingham's Christmas has arrived. To 14-12-19.

Roger Clarke


BRB is appealing for donations to help refurbish the 29-year-old sets. Last year money was raised to restore the costumes most in need of TLC and this year BRB hope to repair the rest of the costumes and carry out pressing restoration on the complex sets to give them a new lease of life, hopefully for another 30 years.

The appeal runs from 3-10 December when thanks to the Patrick Trust, Charles Glanville and the Heritage Lottery Fund, up to £50,000 in donations will be doubled.

Donations can be made on during the appeal week or by phoning BRB on121 245 3545 

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