Only two weeks since our last trip, and it still wasn’t too soon to return to the Unicorn Theatre. Our last visit was to see the show called How Nigeria Became: A Story, and a Spear that didn’t Work. We really enjoyed the production, we learnt a bit more about one side of the kids’ culture, and above all we were delighted to find such a lovely theatre practically on our doorstep.
The trip I’m writing about now was not just enjoyable, it was like stepping into magic. You could hear gasps of delight from the children in the audience; I myself ended up with tears in my eyes (OK so this happens to me a lot, but this one moved us all). The show in question is the Unicorn’s main Christmas show for ages 8+, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:
A very lucky young girl, I grew up being taken on an annual visit to the Royal Festival Hall to see the much more famous ballet scored by Tchaikovsky (always carrying my ballet shoes in case the lead ballerina was taken ill = a family joke which I have since found out did not belong to my family alone). At the time I never realised or minded that the story was fairly surreal and slightly disturbing. The Nutracker and the Mouse King has the same source data as the ballet, being based on the original novella written in 1816 by the German Gothic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. This adaption for the Unicorn Theatre has been done by playwright Annie Siddons. In Siddon’s note in the programme, she lets on that she fell in love with Hoffmann once she started to research him, who lived 46 years (not much longer than she or I right now) and packed a lot into them. One of his recurring themes is the process of the creation of story, which is evident in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
My favourite device is the inclusion of Hoffman himself as a character in the story, which gives even a newer level to the story. Played by Sandy Grierson, he is the steampunk-ish narrator with an endearing German accent along the lines of Despicable Me’s Gru, with a cocked eyebrow to the adults at all times and voicing the scary Mouse King through a mechanical microphone. He laments the fact that his story got turned into a ballet, and confirms that there will be no dancing here. He guides us through the sometimes elaborate tale, not only amusing the adults but also charming the children, especially with his cat on wheels Mr Cornelius.
The whole ensemble is good. I was also keen on Drosselmeier, always a creepy character in the ballet too, and amusingly played by Colin Michael Carmichael.
The set by James Button is brilliant. The main structure on stage is the wooden house/cuckoo clock where the family lives, and which the cast climbs in and out of for so long that you are lulled into security. Then boom! once the transformation happens in Act Two, that is when the real intake of breath comes. We are transported into Candyland, the house turns to gingerbread, and everything in main character Marie’s imagination has come true (or has it?). I know I wanted to stay there forever.
What did my kids think? They loved it too. At 7, my son was wary of the many-headed mouse king who appears out of the floorboards, but he was supposed to be, with its evil glinting eyes and seven heads. I mean, that’s why you sit next to your mum and hold onto her hand if need be.
It’s a story in a story about stories, dreams, imagination, reality … and sweets. We live in a different world than the one depicted in the show, but even if sweets are not hard to come by for most of us, they still hold a special magic for most kids. Add to that the enthusiastic cast and bright colourful allure of Candyland, mixed with the menace of the baddies and one very ugly baby, then you really have a great Christmas show. If you want a proper recommendation, my kids asked me if we could go and watch it again as soon as we left the theatre.
Just to end with a few photos of the theatre which we are newly in love with. There are lots of nutcracker-themed curiosities to look at before and after the show. Please comment below if you want to come with me to Candyland on a more permanent basis. I’m sure Hoffman or maybe Drosselmeier will help facilitate. In the meantime, thank you to the Unicorn Theatre and all the cast and creative team for this wonderful Christmas treat.
For more information, visit the website here to buy tickets. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is on at the Unicorn Theatre until 4th January 2015.
Disclosure: I was given free tickets to see The Nutcracker and the Mouse King for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.
All photos taken by me. The trailer for the production is copyright Unicorn Theatre.