That toys can come to life whilst the real world sleeps have long been a source of fantasy and fascination. The modern day “Toy Story” franchise is testimony to that notion. Zoe Muller has translated her childhood remembrances of “The Nutcracker” ballet and crafted a script well suited for a large cast of young performers. Consequently the Hills Youth theatre realisation of “Clara and the Nutcracker” is an admirable effort. So too are the combined forces of Director Di Mason and Assistant Director Ben Proeve in managing the huge HYT cast in this inaugural production.
On one side of the stage is a comforting living room resplendent with cosy fire and decorated for a family Christmas celebration. On the other side of the stage, in stark juxtaposition, rests the crude scaffolded palace of the Mouse King’s lair. But the visual highlight of the piece is without doubt the bewildering array of costumes. Fairies, the lovely Sugar Plum Fairy, dolls, Clara’s Marie Doll, soldiers, mice (both regal and common rodents!) and the family adults are all sumptuously clad per courtesy of Paola Dal Pozzo, her costume team and a small army of sewing parents! As a result the production certainly did not lack colour.
I really liked the team of small grey mice. These rodents, (obviously on holiday from rural NSW!) were an audience favourite as they squeaked and squealed their entries and exits. A rather well behaved lot and obviously not plague material! The standout chorus item was the Hip Hop (Rap?) piece in act two. It was energetic, animated and the cast was completely immersed within it. It received the greatest audience response by far. Well done!
First performance nervous tension was apparent in the first act in particular. The chorus facial expression was mostly very serious. Remember to smile! A number of delivered lines were directed upstage and therefore out of reach of the audience. I’m sure these issues will improve in subsequent performances as the cast relaxes a little and gains in confidence.
Though it was very much a huge team effort I will make mention of a few of the large principal cast members. I noted that Lucy Thompson as Aunt Emmeline spoke up and out to her audience with clear diction. The Mouse King (Charlotte McNamara) was regally raucous and was ably supported by his Queen (Katherine Morrison) and Avah Bowen who buzzed about the stage as a busy Mouse Ears. Madeleine Dandy as Clara was consistently confident in speaking out to her audience and Etienne Stark provided the right amount of sibling mischief. The Nutcracker (Kit Erhart-Bruce) was both imperious and military-like in his solid portrayal.
I do emphasize that it was the ensemble that was so well received by a doting audience. On a cold and wintery night a trip to the Stirling Community Theatre to see “Clara and the Nutcracker” was most rewarding. Sweet!