If you’re looking for a camp Christmas show, this is for you. With sexy snowflakes, some very tiny shorts, and a gender-non-conforming action man, ‘Nutcracker’ at the Tuff Nut Jazz Club (aka the Southbank Centre) is a snowstorm of fun. Just be wary of cringe.
In this new version, choreographed by Drew McOnie and performed by McOnie Company, the main character Clara becomes Clive, a young boy who just wants to play with the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. Instead, a macho action man – actually called Action Man – is forced upon Clive by his gruff, overworked Dad. Action Man is our nutcracker. The setting – a space under the Royal Festival Hall transformed into a cosy orange-hued faux speakeasy – is the perfect place to shelter from a blizzard. Tchaikovsky’s score is given a jazz makeover by Cassie Ninoshi and Rio Kai.
I was slightly startled by the overzealous grins of the dancers as they boinged onto the stage. In a venue where you’re close enough to smell the performers’ sweat, it was disconcerting to have six sets of pearly gnashers in my face. There were also moments when I was terrified they were going to kick the audience or fling themselves into the ceiling. All hats off to them for navigating such a tiny stage with no injuries, seriously.
A last-minute injury to leading man Sam Salter meant Clive was played by Mark Samaras, who gave a sweet and earnest performance. Meanwhile, with his clenched fists and toylike torso twists, Amonik Melaco’s entrance as Action Man is brilliant. The rest of his performance is surprisingly innocent, if not a little stiff, but I guess that comes with the territory of playing a doll.
The divertissements – traditionally the bit where various sweets dance for Clara’s entertainment – are reimagined as a series of magical fruity cocktails. Rachel Muldoon is delightfully expressive as a feisty strawberry and a cheeky lemon, while the superb Chanelle Anthony has incredible flow as an orange. Ballet dancer Patricia Zhou is captivating in a surprisingly sultry Sugar Plum solo packed full of low lunges and backbends. When the rest of the show is all bounces and grins, this is a welcome slower moment, the jazz music a great contrast to the solo’s typically staccato nature.
There are also unexpected moments. One of the biggest cheers of the night comes when two snowflakes, done up in sexy retro white ski gear – think white earmuffs, tiny white shorts and Gorpcore ski goggles – come out wielding two gold leaf blowers to blast away the white confetti they had previously strewn across the floor. It’s a funny and original way to clear the stage in a venue that has no wings.
Taking sugary sweet to the next level, the show is marred by an uncomfortable moment at the end when the Dad recites a totally unnecessary – and clichéd – poem called ‘Dear Santa’. But despite the cloying aftertaste, ‘Nutcracker’ has some good laughs. Groundbreaking dance this is not, but it's a fun night out.