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The Nutcracker (Tour - Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It’s a given that any production of Nutcracker won’t rival that of Birmingham Royal Ballet – at the O2 for Christmas – because the Brummie’s version is rated the best in the world, a claim that those who have seen it are very unlikely to dispute.

Leeds-based Northern Ballet hasn’t the financial resources that BRB has at its disposal – especially after recent grant cuts - and it shows.

But smaller scale though it is, thanks to artistic director/choreographer David Nixon’s high standards and adroit story-telling skills, there is an unusually precise matching of steps to the sublime score, allied with a narrative clarity and wit that makes the production charmingly entertaining.

The opening night cast at the Opera House features Pippa Moore as young Clara, the daughter of the house, given a nutcracker doll as a present, and Ashley Dixon as the come-to-life Nutcracker Prince. They are an appealing pairing, she full of girlish enjoyment and wonder backed by strong technique, he sturdy and attentive and sporting a winning grin.

Not all the company are as accomplished but there are several impressive turns among the final act divertissements, the Spanish, Arabian and Russian trios are energetically managed and in particular Sebastian Loe, as a Chinese Doll, makes an athletically aristocratic contribution.

Even though the sets aren’t the most spectacular around, apart from a flimsy front cloth hallway they are a reasonable eyeful, especially in the transformation from house to winter wonderland, where the snowflake blizzard always manages to do it for me.

So, not the best Nutcracker ever but a very pleasant seasonal entertainment that will certainly be far classier than the avalanche of pantomimes about to sweep this way.

- Alan Hulme


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