The Nutcracker review – the Royal Ballet’s winter warmer

<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The Nutcracker ballet is famously flawed in dramatic terms, but Tchaikovsky’s twinkling score has given it eternal life. We come here to be cosily coddled with reassurance and fantasy and a warm winter glow, and the Royal Ballet’s production by Peter Wright (made in 1984, revised in 1999) delivers.

Wright’s slant on a nut that has been cracked every which way since 1892 is to put at its centre the magician Drosselmeyer (Gary Avis, a man who can carry a ballet). The set-up is that his nephew has been cursed and turned into a nutcracker doll, and only the right combo of true love and bravery can break the spell. Wright also gets Clara and the Nutcracker involved in the dancing in Act II, where historically they have been relegated to the sidelines. Those tweaks do make a difference – although the first act party still drags a bit – and there’s a nice bit of heartstring-pulling at the end.

The Nutcracker by Peter Wright at the Royal Opera House.
Many dancers getting their moment … The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The large scale means many dancers getting their moment. Opening night’s Clara, Isabella Gasparini, is suitably sweet; Liam Boswell impresses with his springing jumps as Drosselmeyer’s assistant; Mayara Magri has a late turn as the Rose Fairy, gleaming with fresh energy. Sugar Plum Fairy Yasmine Naghdi and prince Matthew Ball arrive in silver-blonde wigs that make them look unreal. Naghdi’s dancing has a similar quality. When your ballet teacher told you to imagine a string pulling you upwards from the top of your head, Naghdi actually looks like that, a perfect central axis, thus she spins in effortless fouettés. She’s queenly in the Elizabeth II way, polished facade not giving anything away, and clicks into poses as if it’s a photoshoot, but also has a gracious musicality, filling the phrases.

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Julia Trevelyan Oman’s sumptuous designs run from Biedermeier elegance to shimmering cake frosting in peach, ivory and gold. The cliched national costumes have been toned down, the Arabian scene changed from a harem to a duet, if still a sexy one (Melissa Hamilton strong on sultry vibes), just as the Chinese dance remains comically perky. You could argue that’s written into the music. But what music it is. Tchaikovsky wins Christmas once again.