The title character in this year’s pantomime at Milton Keynes Theatre walks for miles in search of fame and fortune, strolling to London where he has been told the streets are paved with gold. Fortunately for theatregoers in the new city, Dick Whittington provides panto gold right on our doorstep! Melding magic, merriment and mayhem, the festive extravaganza is packed full of fun and stars a Christmas cracker of a cast.
Penniless Dick is played with warmth and wit (certainly more wit than is often granted to these boyish roles in panto) by actor Chris Jenkins. After packing his knapsack and lacing up his boots, this earnest chap ventures off towards the big smoke (striding “all the way from Cheltenham”), accompanied by his feline friend Tommy the Cat. When the duo finally arrive in the confusing city of Cockney conversation, they are disappointed not to be welcomed by golden paving stones. Completely famished and ready to earn an honest living, they discover that their promised land is overrun with villainous rats. Happily, they land on their feet (“miaow!”) when Tommy proves himself to be a top-notch rat-catcher and secures them both jobs in merchant Alderman Fitzwarren’s shop, Fitzwarren’s Stores.
Kev Orkian is panto personified as the shop’s assistant Idle Jack (swiftly promoted by Alderman to “assistant shop assistant” when Master Whittington appears on the scene!). Returning to the stage in what has become his regular Yuletide gig, Orkian easily proves why he is without question one of the UK’s finest entertainers. As an internationally acclaimed comedy pianist he is well-practised at simultaneously tinkling the ivories and tickling funny bones. With no piano in Dick Whittington (all the fantastic music is overseen by “Uncle Baz”, musical director Barry Robinson), Orkian is free to roam around the stage and has the audience in stitches throughout.
We might still be in November but Christmas is well and truly on its way now English National Ballet is delighting audiences with its dreamy Nutcracker at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Nothing gets me in the festive spirit quite like hearing the opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. There are many different versions of this seasonal ballet but the magical music is timeless and immediately evokes feelings of anticipation, enjoyment, excitement, adventure and beauty. Superbly played by English National Ballet Philharmonic, the familiar compositions envelop audience members in a blissful ballet bubble from the overture right through to the finale.
The company’s current Nutcracker, choreographed by Wayne Eagling, is wonderfully wintery and heart-warmingly whimsical. On a frosty Christmas Eve in Edwardian London a family hosts a celebratory get-together. Among the guests is Drosselmeyer, a magician and maker of toys, and his handsome nephew. Young Clara is besotted with the nephew and eagerly dances with him before receiving a painted wooden nutcracker soldier from the mysterious Drosselmeyer. Thrilled with the gift, Clara happily dances with her new doll until a scuffle with her brother Freddie results in the nutcracker being damaged. Fortunately, Drosselmeyer works his magic to fix the wounded toy before the children are sent off to bed. What happens next is a fanciful adventure. Clara encounters an evil Mouse King, battles with the Nutcracker against an army of mice and travels to the Land of Snow. Later, she is entertained by dancers from all over the world, presented with a pretty posy of waltzing flowers and comes of age dancing with her very own prince.
English National Ballet First Artist Barry Drummond finds a few minutes between classes, performances and rehearsals to fill Georgina Butler in with his thoughts on dancing in Nutcracker and enjoying the magic of Christmas…
English National Ballet opens its acclaimed Nutcracker at Milton Keynes Theatre this evening.
The festive family favourite boasts a sparkling seasonal story, captivating characters and delightful dancing. This ballet’s enduring popularity has seen the Company present a Nutcracker production every year since 1950, its founding year. Last Christmas, over 73,000 people made watching a performance of English National Ballet’s Nutcracker at the London Coliseum part of their holiday celebrations.
This year’s tour (beginning in Milton Keynes and then visiting Liverpool before a return to the Coliseum) continues the annual Nutcracker tradition while bringing choreographer Wayne Eagling’s version to audiences outside the capital.
First Artist Barry Drummond is already embracing the Yuletide season thanks to Nutcracker. As well as looking forward to being part of audience members’ Christmas celebrations, he is eager to make the most of his own festivities when the big day finally arrives!
“Nutcracker is a one-way ticket to festive cheer!”
[English National Ballet’s Barry Drummond performing as Older Freddie in Nutcracker. Photography by Ash.]
Prepare to be swept up in the magic of Christmas as English National Ballet brings its sparkling production of Nutcracker to Milton Keynes Theatre from Wednesday.
The Company’s dancers spent last week wowing audiences at Sadler’s Wells with Akram Khan’s Giselle.
Now, they are carefully rehearsing Nutcracker – the dazzling festive favourite which is guaranteed to enchant family members of all ages – to ensure their usual superb technique and artistry is showcased at its very best.
Masterful Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous score, Wayne Eagling’s exuberant choreography and Peter Farmer’s exquisite designs effortlessly transport us to a frost-dusted Edwardian London.
May all your days be sparkly and bright
‘Tis the season once again! Christmas has been and gone and New Year’s Eve celebrations are taking centre stage at the moment as we all prepare to welcome in 2016.
Last year, Ballet Papier artist Berenice produced a fabulously festive gift for fans of her work – an enchanting short movie of The Nutcracker, starring a twinkle-toed troupe of paper ballerinas inspired by real balletomanes (including yours truly!) from all around the world. For Christmas 2015 she created a limited edition range of ceramic mugs and miniature notebooks featuring scenes from the film. I am honoured to be included in the selected artwork, depicted as the elegant Dew Drop Fairy. Happily, I am now the proud owner of one of “my” mugs – and the matching notebook.
As much as Christmas provides an excuse to indulge in special presents, perhaps the greatest gift it gives us is the reminder to reflect upon the past twelve months. Now is the time to be grateful for all of the good things we have experienced, achieved and received – all while looking forward to dancing into the future…