The children’s plays created by Andrew Pollard (writer) and Adam Sunderland (director) in the last few years, for Northern Broadsides or the Stephen Joseph Theatre, have been unfailingly excellent. There is no specific house-style: all respect the classic being adapted and tell the story clearly and imaginatively while, in Andrew’s phrase, “taking quite a liberty” with the original, but they never work to a set formula.
The Nutcracker Prince, based on the story by ETA Hoffman, is, initially at least, decidedly less left-field than some of Pollard’s earlier plays. The performance traces an elegant curve from story-telling by Dr Dross the toymaker (the excellent Shelley Atkinson, full of eccentricity, authority and an overpoweringly Teutonic accent) to increasingly anarchic action which climaxes with an outburst of marshmallow throwing from the audience, followed by a quiet, thoughtful and surprisingly moving final scene.
In this version of The Nutcracker Prince a schoolgirl Carrie Mell (get it?) possesses the Nutcracker that houses the Prince who will save the kingdom of Sweetovia. Her teacher is really the seven-headed Rat King (well, he’s only a supply) and confronts the Doctor, Carrie, the Prince and the rest in a bid to consume the sweeties of the world!
Andrew Pollard’s script is not afraid of a touch of poetry alongside the silly jokes and fantastic twists. Similarly Adam Sunderland’s direction allows the words to speak in between the manic outbursts, rats popping up through the stage traps, ninja jelly babies or the audience screaming at a pitch that does terrible things to rats! Jan Bee Brown’s designs and Jason Taylor’s lighting are witty and perfectly integrated into the whole and Kieran Buckeridge’s music manages from time to time to produce a tune parallel to Tchaikovsky – to remind us of what we’re not watching!
Helen Macfarlane is suitably serious and surprisingly real as Carrie. Having briefly appeared as an Usherette and a rat-bitten teacher, Matt Connor becomes a most engaging Nutcracker Prince – and speaks fluent Sweetovian! Bryn Holding also takes various parts, but mainly the bully with a heart of gold – a nicely goofy performance! – and Leigh Symonds always shows the rat beneath the skin of Mr Attus the teacher (misterattus – just say it!). A handful of hardworking, splendidly relaxed and controlled, youngsters provide classmates, the sweet police, an occasional drummer boy and much else besides.