Nestled in a small space under the Southbank Centre, in an area that was always designed to be a theatre, we find a pop-up night club – The Tuff Nutt Jazz Club. The intimate space is designed especially for this production by Soutra Gilmour, and immerses us immediately into a kind of relaxing speakeasy with a very Christmassy feel. The club plays host to The McOnie Company’s Nutcracker, a wildly inventive reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s two act ballet.
Here the story is pared back to an hour, which makes it an ideal length for younger audience members experiencing their first ballet performance, as do the vivid colours and visually appealing props that brighten up this underground cave of wonders.
Starting with a nod to the way Tchaikovsky’s music has become familiar to so many of us (even if you’ve never seen The Nutcracker, you’ve probably heard the chocolate commercial) the story is then turned on its head. Young Clara becomes Clive, currently being played with beautiful childlike innocence by Mark Samaras, who wants to play with a sugar plum fairy doll. Dad would prefer it was an Action Man, thrusting the more masculine doll on Clive who quickly stores it away under the stairs.
As the clock strikes midnight, both the Sugar Plum Fairy (Patricia Zhou) and Action Man (Amonik Melaco) come to life and whisk Clive away to a magical dreamland to experience all the colours of the rainbow. Action Man teaches Clive to cast aside gender stereotypes and simply revel in the things that make them happy, and that message manages to find its way back to Clive’s real world too, it’s a heartwarming and inspirational adaptation that John Lewis could turn into their next Christmas advert.
But, just like those famous Christmas ads, the music gets a twist too; Tchaikovsky’s score has been completely reimagined by Cassie Kinoshi and Rio Kai, and is played live on stage by a talented Jazz Quartet. It sounds incredible, and even if you’re not the biggest fan of Jazz music, you’ll be captivated by this familiar music being transformed so beautifully.
Like a box of Quality Street, shimmering colours appear everywhere on stage, from Ryan Dawson Laight’s stunning costume design to Joshie Harriette’s radiant lighting, the small space is elevated to a place where magic happens. Drew McOnie’s dazzling choreography is of course the star of the show, the hard working ensemble cast pushed to the limit with stunning pas de doux and gorgeous solo routines.
Bringing so many different elements to a well-known, and much loved, Christmas story is a risk that has paid off here, and the cast revel in their carefully created world. Amonik Melaco as Action Man is particularly captivating and that single performance is worth the ticket price alone.
The McOnie Company’s Nutcracker at The Tuff Nutt Jazz Club is an unusual, but welcome, addition to London theatre’s Christmas line-up. In a city filled with the usual offerings of Dickens and Panto, Nutcracker is entirely unique and will leave you grinning from ear to ear.