Scottish Ballet: The Secret Theatre review – Christmas selection box is irresistible

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Scottish Ballet blends The Nutcracker and The Snow Queen in an hour-long film full of twinkle and charm

This year has been a test of creativity and nerve for the dance sector (and everybody else), with Christmas its crunch point. Most of the big ballet companies risked putting on a live Nutcracker show, only to have the plug pulled, devastatingly, just before or soon after opening night. Scottish Ballet decided to take a different route, creating an hour-long film that captures ballet’s festive twinkle and fairytale charm in screen-savvy manner.

Devised by dancers turned film-makers Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple (AKA Jess and Morgs), along with designer Lez Brotherston and Scottish Ballet’s artistic director, Christopher Hampson, what’s clever about it is they don’t stray too far from what they know. It’s set in a theatre, for a start. A boy (Leo Tetteh) kicking his football around the city streets wanders into an empty auditorium and encounters characters from Scottish Ballet’s two Christmas shows – Hampson’s Snow Queen and Peter Darrell’s Nutcracker – repurposed into a new, lightweight but still effective narrative. It has the feel of a ballet but the scenes are orchestrated for a roving camera rather than a fixed audience, and there’s a touch of The Greatest Showman in its vintage circus look and editing effects.

Intermingling characters … Rimbaud Patron, left, and Jamiel Laurence. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic
Intermingling characters … Rimbaud Patron, left, and Jamiel Laurence. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

As Tetteh finds himself on the theatre’s stage, a pick and mix of characters emerge from flight cases and wardrobes: Bruno Micchiardi’s piercing-eyed Ringmaster (from The Snow Queen); Javier Andreu and Rimbaud Patron in The Nutcracker’s Spanish dance; Nicholas Shoesmith’s comical strongman in leopardprint pants and tattoos. Three ornately costumed clowns perform The Nutcracker’s Trepak (Russian) dance, and there’s a notable variation from spry sailor Thomas Edwards, very neat and fleet. Drama comes with the impending arrival of our baddie, the Snow Queen. Constance Devernay is fearsomely frosty, although she doesn’t have a huge amount of dancing to do. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say the big finish goes to Sophie Martin’s Sugar Plum Fairy.

Just as the ballets’ characters intermingle, so do Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov’s enchanting scores (recorded by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra for the occasion), while Nikola Medic’s sound design adds hyperreal, cartoonish effect and helps lift things off the screen. With limited means at their disposal, this is a very successful experiment. Verdict: a definite warming of the cockles.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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