The Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, Southbank Centre (venue)
05 November 2023 (released)
07 November 2023
The Halloween decorations have only just gone back in their boxes and the smell of bonfires still lingers in the autumn air, but nonetheless, Drew McOney’s ‘The Nutcracker’ is already filling Southbank with sheer, queer, festive cheer.
Set in an intimate new pop-up venue, the Tuff Nut Jazz club, this reimagining of the Tchaikovsky classic is a glitzy reflection of current times. The hour-long performance follows hero Clive’s (Mark Samaras) exploration of boyhood as he challenges the status quo. He would much rather play with the fairy doll, than the action figure (Amonik Melaco) pushed on him by his aloof father.
Luckily, before you can say bah humbug, our muscular plastic protagonist whisks Clive away to Dreamland where he can play out his campest fantasies. With little in the way of props to set the scene, Ryan Dawson’s wonderful costumes bring this dreamscape to life, from Colgate white retro ski-wear to metallic superhero suits and everything in between. Before long we see the once macho and robotic Amonik Melaco, twirling delicately in a flowing sequin skirt.
Other twists in the tale help to showcase the choreography and talent in visually refreshing ways. Shreddings of fake snow are thrown playfully into the air during ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ and divertissements are introduced with the sip of technicolor cocktails. The latter allows each of our talented cast, including Chantelle Anthony and Patricia Ghou, to test their impressive range within the limits of the small stage.
The score, composed by Cassie Kinoshi, is the London Jazz scene's answer to Duke Ellington’s 1960 attempt. Sultry flute replaces the sound of the twinkly celestra in ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and smooth sax adds an addictively schmaltzy feel to ‘March of the Toy Soldiers’. All the tracks are played live by a quartet, which complete the meticulously constructed feng shui of the Tuff Nut Jazz club, which feels almost as good as the real thing.
Despite the achingly clear storyline, we close with a sickly sweet poem of acceptance from the once disapproving dad, which is enough to turn even the sturdiest of stomachs. All in all McConey’s Nutcracker is cloying at its worst and delightful at its best. But, like any seasonal treat, you'll more than likely want to go back for seconds.
Photo credit: Mark Senior