Along with George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan was one of the three great choreographers of the 20th century and it’s right that The Royal Ballet perform his work. He created much of it for them, and it has transformed both the Royal and ballet itself.

To open its 2009/10 season, the Royal is dancing his Mayerling, the full-length dance-drama based on the true story of the double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and his teenage mistress Mary Vetsera.

It is not a happy tale. Rudolf has a drug problem and gun issues. He is overwhelmed by Austro-Hungarian politics, and has a complex, that is faintly Oedipal relationship with his mother. He also molests almost every passing female. Things go from bad to bleak when he links up with the ambitious, beautiful Mary, who buys into to his gun and skull fueled romps.

The opening night Rudolf was the normally excellent Edward Watson, who took a while to get going. He made both physical wobbles and dramatic false starts, although by the end of Act I he was up to ghoulish full speed.

Mara Galeazzi was Mary, and she too took a while to get into character. The reason is probably the long summer break, with the Royal not dancing at the Opera House for almost four month (they last appeared mid June). However, no such reservations with Cindy Jordain, who danced his flirtatious, still-pretty mother. Her side glances at her hapless son makes you wonder who initiated his un-son-like attachment.

Sarah Lamb was also good as his former mistress Marie Larisch who becomes his procuress, although the normally wonderful Laura Morera was on less good form as Mitzi Caspar (another of Rudolf’s mistresses).

Mayerling is a long and detailed ballet, with a lot of action and umpteen characters. They often distract  from the central action, although Rudolf’s extraordinary string of duets with the women in his life ensures its status as a great, and greatly disturbing work.