I went to Birmingham today to see the matinee, having previously seen the production 25 years ago on a school trip age 10 (I recently found out that back then a certain Kevin O'Hare was the Prince!). Having booked this time to see Lachlan Monaghan as the Prince, after really liking him in Hobson's Choice at Sadler's Wells in June, I was disappointed that 2 days beforehand the casting for both the Prince & the Sugar Plum Fairy was changed on BRB's website. There were then what were evidently last minute cast changes for both Drosselmeyer & the Snow Fairy. Having looked at the full cast list when it was added to BRB's website this morning, with Tom Rogers still listed as Drosselmeyer, I didn't read the paper copy thoroughly at the theatre. I then realised not long after Drosselmeyer entered that he was actually Rory Mackay, who I'd also liked in Hobson's Choice, so at least that was one cast change I was pleased by. I really liked his Drosselmeyer. My mother thought he was rather sinister compared to the RB's version but I didn't find him so. That may be partly because I can still see him in my mind's eye with a bunch of flowers stuck under his bowler hat in Hobson's Choice! The one leading cast member who survived from when I booked to the performance was Rachele Pizzillo as Clara. I thought her acting was good but her dancing was a little shaky on occasion. I've not seen her before so don't know if she was having an off-day. The replacement Prince, Brandon Lawrence, I thought was very good - though I'm not sure pale pink is his colour! The replacement SPF, Yijing Zhang, looked very good technically (in as far as I can judge) but I felt was slightly underpowered in stage presence. However this may be because I saw Nunez (cinecast) & Morera (live) last season & it's probably unfair to expect a younger dancer at Soloist rank to compare to 2 extremely experienced RB Principals. I also fear that Macmillan may have spoiled me for the classics choreographically: when the music really got going in the Grand Pas I found myself wanting more from the choreography, as compared to the pdds in R&J and Manon it seemed a bit polite & correct. When Lawrence did his second solo, his circle of jumps went round in the opposite direction to what I have seen other dancers do both in The Nutcracker & others of the classics. Does anyone know if that is because this production always does it that way round or because he turns better that way so is allowed to do it? The SPF & Prince substitutions were presumably not due to any injury to the original SPF, Maureya Lebowitz, as she was both a leading Snowflake & Flower, so I suppose at least I got to see her to something, though I would have liked to have seen her in a main role after she caught my eye in the Salvation Army variations in Hobson's Choice. I would likewise have liked to see Samara Downs in a larger role than that of Clara's mother, as I see she's doing various Sugar Plum, Snow & Rose fairies at other performances, but as usual it's impossible to line up everyone you'd like to see in the one performance, especially as I was limited to a matinee in order to get home afterwards.
Some aspects of the production I remembered from 25 years ago but I'd also forgotten some things, such as the Rat King appearing in Act 2. With the RB's production fresh in my mind, from having seen it last year both live & at the cinema, I was surprised to find quite how different BRB's is, given they have the same director. With apologies to BRB, by in large I prefer the RB's version. The things I did prefer about BRB's were having Clara & her partner dancing with other adult dancers, rather than sticking out a foot taller than the children; likewise having adults as the soldiers & rats; and not having the SPF & Prince spray-painted blonde! The biggest downsides of BRB's production I thought were the lack of the framing with Drosselmeyer & his Nephew, which therefore deprives the ending of the emotion the RB's has, and Clara turning into the SPF, something I've never liked in Nutcrackers. When the Spanish dancers came on I thought "Those costumes are rather like the RB Swan Lake Spanish dancers" then remembered that it's the same designer so Macfarlane must have repeated himself a bit! The most interesting thing I found in the designs was that any use of large amounts of red also included splotches of black, not just on the set but also costumes such as Clara's mother's dress & the Russian dancers' trousers. I don't know if this has some symbolic meaning or Macfarlane just thought it looked good? Also, for a so-called tutu ballet, there was a surprising lack of tutus! I'd forgotten that not only the Snowflakes but also the Flowers don't wear them.
There were a couple of school parties in, including Elmhurst. I noticed that most of the girls were wearing pretty high heels, which surprised me as I wouldn't have thought they would be allowed with school uniform. Then I wondered if it was to do with them going en pointe, as I remember reading an interview with I think it was Rojo where she said heels were more comfortable than flats because of pointe. Does anyone know if that is the reason for the Elmhurst students?