Wednesday, 3 December 2014

PREVIEW Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Unicorn Theatre

IT must be hard to think about Christmas in the middle of a heatwave but that is exactly what Ellen McDougall had to do this summer.
The Brixton director was tasked with staging the Unicorn Theatre's Christmas show which this year is The Nutcracker And The Mouse King.
Written by Annie Siddons, it is a re-imagining of ETA Hoffmann’s original masterpiece, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, a version of which has in recent years been delighting ballet audiences.
The story is set on Christmas Eve and seven year-old Marie finds the sad and broken Nutcracker from under the Christmas tree and promises to look after him.
But on the stroke of midnight he comes alive, and after enlisting Marie’s help in his battle with the evil seven-headed Mouse King, they journey together through strange and fantastical stories until they finally arrive in a secret land made of nothing but candy.
Combining music and song, and a bit of dancing, this new adaptation of the story features themes of fear, courage, compassion and wonder - not to mention the mischievous mice.
It is a welcome return to the Unicorn for Ellen - who was responsible for the theatre's recent modern version of Henry V and The Man with the Disturbingly Smelly Foot - and she says audiences can expect plenty of Christmas magic as they follow Marie's journey.
"It's a beautiful story and I suppose the thing that drew me to Annie's script was that it's about trusting your imagination," she says.
"It's a real tribute to Marie's imagination which takes her to amazing places and is an opportunity for her to see a world around her in bright, beautiful colours and plenty of magic."
Although based on Hoffman's classic tale, the Unicorn's version features a somewhat less privileged family to that which perhaps most people are familiar.
Ellen adds the story is more complex and more in depth but still features all the magical elements to make it come alive.
"We had very solid script from Annie who had a strong sense of what works for young audiences," she says.
"She has drawn out the dynamic of the family Christmas and she has written a beautiful journey for Marie.
"It's got all the elements you would expect with puppets, dancing, though not ballet, singing and some acting," she jokes.
"However, Marie and her family are a very ordinary one. They are poorer than the family in the ballet version and have to deal with more everyday household issues.
"There are some parts of the original story that feel of their time and although we have kept the essence of that, we have worked hard to draw out the contemporary relevance of it."
The show, which has just opened at the Tooley Street theatre features a cast of nine, the majority of whom Ellen says double up on roles.
"It's a massive show partly because there are a lot of characters in it," she laughs. "And in terms of the technical process it's been quite a challenge.
"It's actually a huge production for the Unicorn and has been the biggest show I've done but it's been amazing and so enjoyable - although to be thinking about designing a Christmas show with all the magic and gingerbread in the middle of this summer's heatwave was a bit of an odd thing to do!" she says cheerfully.
Despite this Ellen says she has loved being back at the theatre after her past successes there.
"The priorities of this theatre are so clear - to support children's imaginations - and so it's an inspiring and thrilling place to work," she says.
"Purni Morell [artistic director] has an insightful and skilful way of putting work together and there is always lots going on here that's so interesting.
"It's great to get up in the morning and come to work knowing you are creating something for an age group which is so honest in its reactions.
"And now this show is all coming to life on the stage and we have had some audience reaction it feels great and exciting. It really feels as though Christmas is on its way - it's lovely!

The Nutcracker And The Mouse King is on at the Unicorn Theatre, Tooley Street until Sunday, January 4. Tickets cost from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7645 0560.

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