We received press tickets in exchange for this review
Friday evening saw not just the opening of The Nutcracker at Cardiff Castle, but also the first night of five weeks of performances in ‘The Spiegeltent’, a unique performance space housing three different productions over the festive season, with new family musical Santa’s Wish and Castellana, a cabaret-style show for over 16s, both opening on Friday 2 December.
It was my first experience inside a Spiegeltent and, nestled inside the castle grounds with the lights and sounds of the ice rink and food stalls of Winter Wonderland nearby, it certainly provided a cosy yet decadent venue for this new take on the classic ballet.
A Spiegeltent (which means ‘magic mirrors’) is a hand-hewn pavilion, dating back to the late 1800s when it was used as a travelling dance hall across Europe. Sumptuous red velvet fabric form the circus style dome ceiling, glitterballs dangle from the ceiling, their lights reflecting on the cut mirrors that sit behind the booths along the edges of the venue. The audience of around 500 sit around the stage, which juts cat-walk style into the pavilion.
This particular Spiegeltent is one of only a handful that remain in the world. Each one is unique and with its own name, personality, and style. This one, The Fortuna, is owned by Dutch company Van Rosmalen, and has played host to some of the world’s greatest cabaret performers and musicians. It arrived in Cardiff on several trucks which were driven over from Holland, and currently sits in the castle grounds, in the shadow of the Norman keep.
It’s a befitting venue for tonight’s production of The Nutcracker, which gives the classic ballet a Welsh twist.
Instead of Clara, we have Carys. Instead of the Mouse King we have the Mari Lwyd. And instead of dancing sugarplums we have Uncle Idris, Bopa Sheila and Bopa Linda, as we join the Williams’ family Christmas in full swing.
This version of The Nutcracker was created for Rubicon Dance Company, one of Wales’ flagship dance companies which sadly had to close in September of this year. It originally performed in December 2021 as part of the Welsh Dance Theatre Trust, adapted for schools across Wales and even performed for HRH the Prince and Princess of Wales as part of the Cardiff Castle 2022 Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Jamiel Devernay Laurence is the director and choreographer, working with Richard Perry and John Manders, the producers of the inaugural Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival and directors of Live Under The Stars.
Under his guidance, ballet mixes with all kinds of other classical and more modern dancing and even some mild acrobatics, while the score blends Tchaikovsky with Duke Ellington’s jazz interpretation of The Nutcracker.
Ffion Elmer as Carys and Zach Parkin as The Nutcracker have some beautiful duets together, while some more playful and humours routines come from Constant Vigier as Uncle Idris and Linda Sims and Sheila Williams as Bopa Linda and Sheila. I particularly liked the sultry moves of Amber Howells and Cameron Everitt as Carys’ mother and father, as they rekindle their romance to Duke Ellington’s jazz score. We also enjoyed the impressive snowflakes – who took to the stage at Cardiff’s Platinum Jubilee – tumbling and avalanching around the stage in perfect formation.
The production is definitely family-friendly however, younger children might find it a little confusing if they don’t have much knowledge of The Nutcracker story or are unfamiliar with ballet and the concept of a story being told through dance. My youngest is eight and got a little confused at times whereas my 11 and 12 year olds, who are more familiar with the dream sequences of The Nutcracker, as well as lots of the music, found it easier to understand, and noticed when the Welsh changes came in.
Ballet purists may not like the changes, but personally I thought it a quirky, humorous, and engaging performance and a creative risk that has paid off. I liked the blend of different styles of dance and music, as well as the gorgeous venue and cabaret feel. Being set amid the other Christmas attraction at Cardiff Castle, it all felt very festive. A great addition to the seasonal theatrical offerings in Cardiff.
The Nutcracker is at Cardiff Castle until Sunday 27 November, with performances at 2pm and 6.30pm.
Santa’s Wish, a new magical family musical runs from Friday 2-Saturday 31 December
Castellana, a new production for those aged 16+ combines cabaret, live music and spectacular stunts, and runs from Friday 2 December-Sunday 1 January.
For more information see the website here.