THE NUTCRACKER Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Wed 17—27 Dec; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 30 Dec—1 0 Jan

Over the years, they’ve all had a shot at it. Mark Morris turned it into The Hard Nut, Matthew Bourne set it in an orphanage, and ballet companies throughout the world balance their books on it every Christmas. Financially, The Nutcracker is the closest thing the dance world has to a ‘safe bet’. Up until now. Since arriving at Scottish Ballet 3 year ago, artistic director Ashley Page has repeatedly eschewed the easy option. Other directors kept existing dancers for fear of reprisals, Page chucked them out. For the company’s first outing he programmed a mixed bill of contemporary choreographers, a notoriously hard sell in theatres.

And now, when other companies are dragging out snow machines and tinsel, Page has gone for rat masks and war tunics. It’s The Nutcracker, but not as we know it. And thank heavens for that. Rather than take the popular Christmas ballet at face value, Page has gone back to the original text. Written by ETA Hoffman in 1816, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was never intended for children, so dark was its content. It was only when Alexander Dumas re-wrote it with Christmas trees and Sugar Plum fairies, rather than evil curses, that choreographer Marius Petipa began to show an interest, commissioning Tchaikovsky to write his now legendary score.

Fans of the traditional ballet will be relieved to hear that some things are to remain sacrosanct - and Tchaikovsky’s score is one of them. So too is lvanov’s Grand Pas de Deux from Act Two. But rather than create a saccharine-coated world for our heroine, Page plays with her mind. Characters from the Christmas party turn up in the Mouse King’s army, thinly disguised, but recognisable enough to cause confusion in the

Enduring anti-fascist allegory



Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 20 Dec 0...

Staging Brecht's ‘epic theatre' in a small drama studio is no small task. However. Phillip Breen's exceptionar presentation of this enduring anti fascist allegory is an ()l)](}(ll lessoi‘ ll‘ how to make more drama from ;-ss space. Highly stylised and brilliantly hold. Breen's production is intelligently

attuned to Brecht's aesthetic lrom the very outset. Making no concessions to naturalisin. he populates the Citi/ens' stal 5; studio Willi archetypal Chicago gangsters. pin striped businessmen and pig nosed hack Journalists. It the costumes and style of performance succeed in keeping us at arms length. Brecht's compelling political commentary is enhanced by some fine additions; to Ralph Manlteim's translation. Ui s sent up nicely by having some intended ‘l le who is not

High jumps in tights in The Nutcracker

young girl. But it’s not just the narrative that sets this production apart from the usual Nutcracker fare. Page has teamed up with innovative designer Antony McDonald to create a mammoth set that’s more technically challenging than anything Scottish Ballet has previously attempted. And Page’s new dancers have been getting to grips with his highly complex choreography.

‘The Nutcracker is about true love overcoming ugliness,’ says Page. ‘But also about having belief in people and going through hell to get to the other side. If you’ve been through something to feel happy and safe, you deserve it, it’s your right.’ Which, with any luck, will also apply to Page and his new company. (Kelly Apter)

for me is against me'» and unintended ‘Do not mistindeiestimate me'i Bushisms placed in his mouth.

lhe original text itself. needless to say. still sparkles ‘.'.’llll disconcerting gems. \"Vl‘at the nell is Ui talking about. for instance. when he castigates Jews and bicyclists"? It's an old gag from Germany .i‘. the lfiiiitis, Hitler makes; a speech 'isliiig the ills of the nation. and repeatedly blames the Jews. A voice from the hack calls out. 'And the bicycle ridei's.‘ Hitler asks: 'Why the bicycle 'iders'i' lo ‘.'.’l’.l(lll the brave voice replies: ‘Why the Jews?" As ever Willi Brecht. the satire is there in deeds as much as In words. lhe scene in which Ui la chillingly comical Stephen Ventural is given a PR makeover oy a failed classical actor iAndi'ev-J l ElllglltiOl is powerfully executed. hilarious and frightening.

Although the play allows contemporary directors to take a pop at modern leaders .ike Bush and Blair. who like invading other people's countries. its primary contention remains that fascism is a protection racket for the middle class and big husiness. But that's JllSl lvlai'Xist propaganda, isn't :t Monsieui le Pen? ilvlai'k Brown.

Theatre editor Steve Cramer runs through his most spine-tingling moments of the year

As I reflect back upon the year just past. a great tumbling confusion of grand moments returns. it's on these occasions that for all the processes and complexities of the theatre. one appreciates the much undervalued person at the centre of it all -- the actor. lt's they who make those memories of moments. little epiphanies that stay with you long after.

Two such memories come from this year's fringe. Cait Davies hand- over-hand walk up the stair of a Newtown flat in Those Eyes, That Mouth would fall flat in the hands of a lesser actor. yet this stunning physical performer brought a passionate intensity to this gesture. and the whole of the splendid Gridiron's production. It'll also be hard to forget y0ung Fraser Ayres in Henry Adam’s Splendid The People Next Door. 8 character full of twitchy complexities and neurosis. menaced by a bent copper. and in the middle of a political situation he doesn't understand.

Tam Dean Burn is guaranteed to produce a strong moment in everything he works on. and his stand-off with the equally admirable Stewart Porter at the climax of the Tron's production of Patrick Marber‘s Dealer’s Choice carried an intensity not to be forgotten. Burn returned with even more dark and glowering power in his adaptation of Louis Welsh's The Cutting Room, where. opposite Anne Marie Timoney. he unfolded a truly creepy narrative of pomography and murder.

A truly powerful ensemble performance was produced by the cast of The Breathing House. Peter Arnot‘s play. which also represented the close of the Kenny lreland era at the Lyceum. In this, Kathryn Howden and Neil McKinven worked beautifully together as a photographer and the maid he marries. This issue already contains references to Such grand performers as Molly Innes and John Kazek in our top 100. so there's been plenty to admire. Get to the theatre, it's all there.

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