The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Review written by Flossie Waite
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
A Unicorn Production
Unicorn Theatre
21st November – 4th January 2015
For ages 8+

It was Purni Morell’s idea to adapt E.T.A Hoffman’s 1803 novella this Christmas. The Unicorn Theatre’s Artistic Director has championed the rights of children to an “ownership of culture and in particular iconic work” and what could be more iconic at this time of year than The Nutcracker. Revamping this classic draws out the role of children in the original text, placing them centre stage and giving them autonomy.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King delves behind the beloved ballet and brings us the story of Marie (Akiya Henry), who is more interested in a nutcracker than her Christmas gifts. When her brother Fritz (Alex Austin) damages the nutcracker, she bandages him up, and he soon comes to life to thank her. What follows is a quirky production that goes all over the shop, but it’s a very entertaining exercise in imagination.

It’s a story we think we all know, but there are so many more stories within it, and it is through them that the production explores supportive adult/ child relationships. The best adults in this play are those that care about stories, and let children make decisions about what is going to happen in them.

Writer Annie Siddons has peeled away some of the layers, but did add one, framing the production by having Hoffman (Sandy Grierson) as a narrator on stage throughout. He cares deeply about the narrative, asking the audience’s opinion, checking whether they liked certain bits, explaining any edits: “It was exciting but unfortunately a lot of it falls out of the scope of this story.” When Drosselmeier (Colin Michael Carmichael), Marie and Fritz’s godfather, is telling them a story, they have to add bits and join in, and he puts all three of them at the heart of the action.

In contrast, Marie’s mother only wants her children to hear calming, instructional tales for girls, symptomatic of her general fussing. She can’t deal with wildness, and is far more fragile than her hardy, brave children. Granted, she is grief-stricken after the death of her husband but still, as Hoffman tells us, “sometimes grown-ups can be dumb-dumbs.”

The set design is ambitious – a big wooden framed house that looks like a cuckoo clock and turns into a Gingerbread House. There are scary moments – the seven-headed-mouse-king appears from under the floorboards – and surprising moments – an actor delves under these same floorboards to tell a bit of the story. It’s slightly too long, but the cast maintain energy-filled, funny, sincere and sometimes manic (in a good way) performances.

If you’re looking for a ballet, then there’s a dance in the extremely psychedelic Candyland, but that’s as close as you’ll get.  The Nutcracker and the Mouse King champions children being imaginative and creative, and this version should be the new Christmas tradition.

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