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Department store Tchaikovsky has bags of Christmas cheer

Nutcracker Sweeties at Gaiety Theatre, Dublin until Saturday, November 20, national tour until December 23

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Rosa Pierro and Thomas Bradshaw in Nutcracker Sweeties by Morgann Runacre-Temple. Photo by Andrew Ross

Rosa Pierro and Thomas Bradshaw in Nutcracker Sweeties by Morgann Runacre-Temple. Photo by Andrew Ross

Clockwise from left: Fearghal Curtis, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O'Kelly, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Clockwise from left: Fearghal Curtis, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O'Kelly, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

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Rosa Pierro and Thomas Bradshaw in Nutcracker Sweeties by Morgann Runacre-Temple. Photo by Andrew Ross

Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet The Nutcracker has been a seasonal favourite since the mid-20th century. Its 1892 premiere in St Petersburg received a lacklustre response, but a 20-minute musical selection, The Nutcracker Suite, became an immediate concert performance favourite and is familiar to most ears.

Choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple’s new version for Ballet Ireland transposes the action from a home to a department store. Designer Jack Scullion creates this simple setting underneath an evocative Clerys clock. An early dance sequence with shopping bags is very amusing: Tchaikovsky does capitalism

Ciara and her brother Fionn are out shopping with their parents on Christmas Eve. They wander off and get left behind in the store, where they fall asleep. The store manager, a mysterious Mrs Drosselmeyer, acts as a ringmaster to their dreams. A lift transports the children from one adventurous floor to the next.

Tom Lane’s sound design has added electronic enhancements to the score: birdsong during the Waltz of the Flowers; creaking bones as the Nutcracker comes to life; and the sound of a GAA crowd during a sequence with candy-striped hurley sticks. These enhancements work perfectly.

Elsa Le Breton is a wonderful sprite-like Ciara, her movements combining delicacy and athleticism. Rosa Pierro dances in the grand classical manner as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Thomas Bradshaw is a commanding presence as her Cavalier. Isabella Heymann impresses as a showy Mrs Drosselmeyer.

The storytelling is properly foregrounded with all the mime neatly done. The Snow Scene choreography is the only weak link as it feels over-familiar. Everything else sizzles and the hurling dance is inspired. The battle with the rats is a highlight.

This is a treat of a show, full of Christmas cheer. The department store here becomes a sacred space of transformation, an enclosed world dedicated entirely to dance, where cares and troubles are chased away like the rats in Act 1.

And Tchaikovsky’s score works its usual magic — he truly created the original sound of Christmas.

Revolution in the air at Monaghan Asylum

Elsewhere at Abbey Theatre, Dublin
until Saturday, November 20

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Clockwise from left: Fearghal Curtis, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O'Kelly, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Clockwise from left: Fearghal Curtis, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O'Kelly, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Clockwise from left: Fearghal Curtis, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O'Kelly, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

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In 1919, the staff of the Monaghan Asylum went on strike, locked themselves in with the inmates and briefly declared themselves an independent Soviet commune. They held off the authorities, at that time the RIC and the bishops, for weeks.

Composer Michael Gallen’s opera depicts these events as they roil in the memory of an inmate, Celine. The concept is by Gallen, and he wrote the libretto with Dylan Coburn Gray and Annemarie Ní Churreáin. We meet Celine in her bed, the orchestra (Ensemble Miroirs Étendus) occupy a small stage to the rear, but the musicians soon break out of these confines.

Conductor Fiona Monbet is a marvel as she imposes coherence among these moving musical parts. Director Tom Creed and designer Katie Davenport infuse every moment with riotous dynamism: red stars, a revolutionary statue, a confetti drop. The  lines are often funny. Music ranges from jerky discord to sweet melody, with bits of cabaret and trad thrown in. Tenor Adrian Dwyer has a super showman number as the Inspector of Lunatics.

But the core emotional through-line of Celine’s journey is swamped. The character is split into two, sung by sopranos Daire Halpin and Amy Ní Fhearraigh, and she also personifies the union leader O’Donnell at one stage. The prime creative energy is invested in the Soviet shenanigans, and Celine never really manages to make the story her own.


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