Winter wonderland, made in Thurruck

PUBLISHED: 13:02 02 December 2013 | UPDATED: 13:02 02 December 2013

EXG DEC 13 Nutcracker

EXG DEC 13 Nutcracker

Archant

Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker is a festive family favourite and one of the most popular dance productions ever presented in the UK. This Christmas, The Royal Ballet presents a production full of magical scenes, Christmas sparkle and captivating dance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

But behind the magic of this winter wonderland will be a team from Thurrock, based at The Royal Opera House’s Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop. Here, all the sets are built by highly-skilled scenic artists, metal workers, carpenters and draughtsman.

Emma Troubridge, the head scenic artist, has worked at the company for more than 30 years and has contributed to several productions of The Nutcracker. ‘It always feels exciting to be involved in any production at The Royal Opera House, but this is one of the most popular dance productions. The Nutcracker set was originally created in 1994, but over the last three years we have been gradually replacing certain elements. As it’s quite an old set, we try and get all the money together to replace certain creations with new pieces. However, we try our best to make the piece look as original as possible, so it gives the impression it has been there for 30 years.’

The Nutcracker tells the story of Drosselmeyer, a mysterious magician and maker of mechanical toys, who tries to break a curse that has turned his nephew into a nutcracker doll. He recruits the help of a young girl, Clara, and together they embark on a magical adventure, battling an army of mice and travelling to the faraway lands of the Kingdom of the Sweets and the Land of Snow.

Tchaikovsky’s intoxicating score is complemented by the visually enchanting designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, which goes back to a traditional 19th century Christmas complete with a magical growing Christmas tree and a golden sleigh ride. Over the years, elements have been replaced or touched up as they have deteriorated and one of the creations is the front cloth, which is something the team have dedicated a lot of time too.

Emma adds: ‘Julia was the original designer and sadly her front cloth had worn away as it’s handled a lot throughout the shows every year. The bottom had to be replaced and altered from the original design. Completing this was a wonderful experience, yet a big learning curve too, as it personally enabled us to have our own paint frame. The front cloth is one of the most exciting pieces from the show. It’s the first thing the audience will fix their eyes on when they sit down in their lovely, crushed velvet chairs, and they will see a spectacular painting. People who know about The Nutcracker will realise that it is a new front cloth and the most exciting part is what’s going to happen to it in the next scene.’

Stuart Hall, a scenic painter, has been in the industry close to 17 years and has worked on the front cloth for the last year. ‘It’s an absolute privilege to be part of this production and working on this particular element makes you feel very Christmassy. It is an imaginary cityscape painting with snowy elements, which is very magical. It’s made from a 1930s Christmas card and it sets the scene to get the audience in the mood for the upcoming performance.’

The Royal Opera House Thurrock was built in December 2010 when 
the previous Royal Opera House production facility had to be relocated from East London following London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Work from the artists and the painters that create the imaginative sets and scenery at The Royal Opera House can be seen on a tour of the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop and the enormous production workshop will also show you how the designers’ visions are turned into reality, creating the many different sets, including The Nutcracker, that appear on the performed stages of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Laura Morera, principal at The Royal Opera House and The Sugar Plum Fairy in the latest classical repertory, performed in Thurrock when it opened in 2010. ‘I performed at the opening with the Royal Opera and it was the first time I saw this incredible place – the production team are simply world class. It was nice to see the local community coming down to the opening and there was a lot of people showing their support. It was great to be part of such an event and overall it was such a fantastic day.

The Nutcracker concept is beautiful. I love playing Sugar Plum Fairy as it brings some sparkle and magic to the role. However, it’s a physically demanding part to play and you have to try and make it look as easy as possible. Everyone is so dedicated and by the time we come on the stage, the scenes are already settled. The production gives such a wonderful feel and it really complements the dancers and their costumes. One of my favourite parts of the show is the leading to the Kingdom of Snowflakes, it is very magical and the chorography and production come together perfectly. They really tell the story well, especially just before The Nutcracker comes alive. The whole concept is all very Christmassy, it’s lovely.’

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