Review: The Nutcracker, Bristol Old Vic

Running until 7 January. Words by Daisy Game

Claire’s family isn’t the festive kind.

Her mum is a workaholic (“not now, Claire!”), her dad a bad – but obsessive – entrepreneur, and brother… Well, he’s a brother. Alone on Christmas Eve, Claire (Mae Munuo) is left to her own imaginative devices, and spends her time in search of missing best friend, Charlie the Unicorn. That is, until she and her family receive an impromptu visit from mysterious clockmaker, Mr Choke (Tristan Sturrock).

Mr Choke brings with him gifts for all, including (hurrah!) a nutcracker for Claire. And so it begins – an adventure of epic (festive) proportion. Some of the original Nutcracker magic is kept on (the ‘Cracker himself, the King of the Mice, the toys who come to life) but the Bristol Old Vic’s version is a largely reimagined take. Gone is the Sugar Plum Fairy; gone is the land of sweets – both replaced by a more metallic world, a-clink with clockwork cogs. 

A well-deserved shout out here to set and costume designer Tom Rogers. The staging is beautiful, the action backed first by a large chalkboard adorned with doodles, and then by an impressive, steampunk-style situation. Visually, the whole production is a wonder; it’s as if the Bristol Old Vic team have rummaged around in a child’s busy head, scooped out the juiciest ideas, and dashed them in generous helpings onto the stage. There are unicorns and princesses, toys that come to life, a King and Queen of Mice – not to mention a King and Queen of Sausages. 

Make no mistake – this is a family show, and the smaller the audience member, the louder the giggle. But there are a few tasty morsels of darkness smuggled in to keep older watchers happy. The Mouse King’s approach in the show’s first half (complete with ominous banging / scratching sounds) has a good scare factor to it, and when Mr Choke finally reveals his Dark Side – a string of dead mouse babies dangling from his dastardly mitts – it’s all rather nice and nasty. 

It’s also worth pausing here to note how excellent Sturrock is in the role of Choke. Dashing about the stage, making cryptic comments on the nature of time (“time can’t be stopped – it has to keep moving…”, etc.) the Bristol Old Vic regular is excellent as the zany (but tortured) clockmaker: giving off a nice dose of Peter–Capaldi­–As­–Dr Who energy. It’s a standout (ticket-worthy) performance. 

On the whole, this is a show that sparkles with festive cheer and affection. As we make our way out of the auditorium, I overhear a mother enquiring after who her daughter’s favourite character had been – to which the latter, with the utmost seriousness, responds that it was “all of them”. Which just about sums up The Nutcracker. 

Tickets (from £14) available at

Featured image: Denzel Baidoo as Nutcracker | Photo by Geraint Lewis