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Birmingham Royal Ballet - La Fille mal gardee (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Second up on the BRB’s tour is the perennial La Fille mal gardée.

Frederick Ashton’s 1960s adaption of the 18th century French rural comedy, is all colour, pantomime and set pieces.

Philip Ellis again keeps a tight rein on the Royal Ballet Sinfonia to milk the light-heartedness from John Lanchbery’s arrangement of Ferdinand Herold’s score.

Osbert Lancaster’s set is pretty, classical and with just enough detail to amuse – bloomers drying alongside hams in the farmhouse beams and crows nailed to the barn wall – should the audience’s eyes happen to wander.

But that is only really likely in the second act which is something of a procession of showcases with an excellent corps de ballet crowding the stage and executing, among others, a superb maypole dance between.

Convincingly teenage Lise (Nao Sakuma delicate and ubiquitous – what stamina) is in love with farm boy Colas (Iain Mackay more than redeeming himself from an oddly jarring performance earlier in the week) much to the consternation of her cantankerous mother Widow Simone who has her sights set on a match with the daft son of a similarly prosperous vineyard owner.

So there’s great deal of sneaking about, snatched kisses and parent/adolescent strife.

Poised Sakuma holds centre stage superbly while Mackay is excellent with the high jumps and spins required of the demanding role of Colas.

But this is really all about the comedy and the set pieces – the duo execute the ribbon bondage bits adroitly while Lise’s friends produce the cat’s cradles with aplomb (and, I would guess, a bit of breath-holding and finger-crossing).

Jonathan Caguioa is excellently macho as the cockerel (and suitably bumbling as the notary’s clerk) and the chickens are carefully observed by Karla Doorbar, Laura-Jane Gibson, Jade Heuson and Emily Smith. And then there is the famous clog dance. Ballet Master Michael O’Hare, in the character role of Widow Simone, shows he still has what it takes with this exuberant and highly technical piece into which he injects great humour and tremendous comic timing.

Also of note is James Barton who squeezes every ounce (or should that be gram?) of comedy from the wonderful role of clumsy Alain, the foolish would-be suitor. Bringing to ballet what Les Dawson brought to piano playing, Barton shows his mastery through his mis-steps and delights in his idiocy.

Peregrine the pony was sweet and well-behaved - no Blue Peter moments here – to round off a frivolously pleasant evening spoiled only by two excessively long intervals.


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