'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King' – Unicorn Theatre
Playing in the intimate space of the Unicorn Theatre, ’The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ is a charming production that engages adults and children alike with its mix of subtle humour, uncanny Romantic horror and undertones of Elizabethan theatre.
Upon entering the theatre, a beautifully decorated wooden set, which appears half covered with a huge red drape like a colossal Christmas present, fills the audience with wonder. Then the curtains begin to move and out comes none other than ETA Hoffmann himself and his strange-looking stuffed cat on wheels called Mr Coppelius. Sandy Grierson brilliantly impersonates the writer, adopting the role of storyteller with the flavour of a vaudevillian compere. He introduces the story by winding-up a magical box that initiates the audience into the life and psyche of seven-year old Marie, her beloved Nutcracker who becomes a real man called Zacharias, and the terrifying seven-headed Mouse King.
This production is not to be confused with the somewhat watered-down revision of the story by Alexandre Dumas and made famous by Tchaikovsky; as Grierson-Hoffmann himself puts it in the introduction of the story: This is not a "diabetic ballet" but a play, and playful it is.
Annie Siddons succeeds indeed in writing a most accomplished and quite faithful theatrical adaptation of Hoffmann’s tale. The story unfolds with enchanting absurdity, just as the imagination of a child can unfold, where different fragmented stories form part of a wonderful whole. An inventive dramaturgy, together with a superb and delicate set and costume design by James Button, offer a varied and rich mix of elements that make it a colourful, ever-surprising and delightful experience.
The journey into Marie’s psyche starts with the nightmarish horror provoked by the giant black rat heads with bright red eyes and moveable jaws that are suspended on rods and emerge from the stage floor amidst eerie green smoke. The most surreal episode arrives with the story of Princess Pirlipott, who has been cursed by the Mouse Queen and transformed as a baby into a grotesque and hideous creature, a hilarious humanette again excellently played by Sandy Grierson. And there's an awe-inspiring, delicious set transformation where an explosion of colour brings a total change in the emotional landscape, and Marie and The Nutcracker navigate a lemonade lake on a bath tub on wheels and engage in a bizarre musical number together with the psychedelic zany characters that inhabit a land of spun sugar.
What is special about this production is that it treats its young audience with respect and is never insulting to their intelligence. It delightfully captures Hoffmann’s imagery and the uncanny uncertainty of what belongs to the real world and what belongs to the world of the imagination. It is a fantastic and original piece of family theatre, magical for Christmas and more than adequate for any season.
'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King'