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Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 30 November 2014

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Unicorn Theatre ⋄ 1st November 2014 – 4th January 2015

The stuff of dreams.

Laura Seymour

Fritz’s dreams and games about being a soldier are not questioned: these are supposed to become his reality. His sister Marie’s are too luscious and scary for their mother to accept, yet the points of contact between her disturbing, buoyant fantasies and real life become increasingly resonant in this production of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, adapted from ETA Hoffman’s story.

Set in a world where sweets are scarce, Annie Siddons’s adaptation forces us to overcome our twenty first century taboos against encouraging children to overindulge in sugar. Using sugar as the stuff of fantasy, this production isn’t syrupy sweet but trippily candy-bright. The magical contraptions that the children’s godfather makes are very much the sort of messy jumbles of (to the untrained eye) chairs and household objects that young people claim to be spaceships or cars. However, Marie’s journey into Candyland with the Nutcracker, with its rollerskating Nelly Furtado-imitating swans, stretches the audience’s imagination rather than requires it to do all the work, and is gloriously acted; Julia Innocenti, especially, as a little peppermint-green lollipop-planting psychopomp, perfectly captures Candyland’s blend of giggling glee and sincere quest for enlightenment as she tempts grownups back to childhood: at one point she sits pressing a doughnut to her forehead, gravely looking within herself and thinking about the nature of humanity.

Together, the cast energetically reveals the conflicting family dynamics: the stressy, anxious, bereaved mother, the tactful and kind maid and godfather (oh that eyepatch, Hoffman did love eyes), the latter of whom nevertheless betrays Marie at a crucial moment, and the high-ranking officer who eventually becomes Marie’s stepfather and whose narcissism fits perfectly with his boyish readiness to leap into the first magical toybox he finds. Watching the grownups implicate Fritz in destroying his sister’s dreams by making him take her nutcracker – by this point, persistently, disobediently an object with a coconut for a head, rather than the handsome prince she claims – brings the production close to something sombre and difficult to watch.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King aims to help us, like Marie’s mother, to connect with the imaginations of others. It is lovely to sit in the Unicorn Theatre watching the children in the audience dare each other to run up and touch the stage before the show, and to see the actors (especially Sandy Grierson, who plays Hoffman) responding to them with sensitivity. The fringes of terror are kind here. The seven-headed mouse king is a frightening piece of stagecraft, straight from Revelations via the puppet store, that plays upon the inherent terror of finding out that someone else has been secretly, maliciously, watching your house But, crucially, Grierson’s Hoffman – who generally occupies the smoky space nearest us, who is anxious to break up the action between scenes and ask if we like his cat – is always visibly, reassuringly present during this scariest part, voicing the king’s nasty words with one of his machines.

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Laura Seymour

Laura Seymour is writing a PhD thesis on cognitive theory and Shakespeare in performance. Her poems have appeared in several journals such as 'Iota', 'Envoi', 'Ambit', and 'Magma'. Her book 'The Shark Cage' won the 2013 Cinnamon Press debut collection prize and is forthcoming in 2015.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King Show Info


Directed by Ellen McDougall

Written by Annie Siddons

Cast includes Naomi Ackie, Alex Austin, Colin Michael Carmichael, Ashley Gerlach, Sandy Grierson, Akiya Henry, Kristin Hutchinson, Asif Khan and Julia Innocenti

Link https://www.unicorntheatre.com/

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