0 5 mins 7 mths

How many Nutcrackers does it take to get into the Christmas spirit in London? Well, quite a few, especially since the city goes all out with Nutcracker shows during the festive season. And this year, there’s one that stands out – Drew McOnie’s hour-long extravaganza at Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, Southbank Centre.


Let’s get one thing straight about this version: it’s not your typical Nutcracker. It’s not going for the classical vibe, it’s not trying to be a statement LGBTQ+ adaptation, and most importantly, it’s not dull. Actually, it’s one of those rare instances where an hour feels too short – and that doesn’t happen every time, right?


So, what’s the deal with McOnie’s Nutcracker? First off, the music gets a makeover. Tchaikovsky’s 19th-century score takes a jazzy turn, thanks to Cassie Kinoshi’s sax-forward adaptation for a four-piece jazz band. Picture them, starting the gig in pyjamas on a tiny stage in the cosy Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, a festive pop-up at the back of the Southbank Centre. It’s intimate, and you can practically see every bead of sweat on all six cast members. McOnie, known for dancing on big Broadway stages, brings his larger-than-life moves to the cosy confines of this club. The cast steps up, leaping and twirling within the limits of the small stage, often dodging drinks on front-row tables. These dancers are like flexible contortionists, pulling off moves that make you wonder how they don’t crash into the audience.


Now, the plot gets a makeover, too. Meet Clive (charming Mark Samaras), our lead instead of Clara. He’s just a boy who wants to be happy, playing with a fairy from the Christmas tree. But his old man isn’t a fan of Clive’s unconventional choices. The fairy gets the boot, replaced by a modern day Nutcracker – an Action Man (muscly Amonik Melaco).


Drew McOnie’s jazz-infused take on The Nutcracker showcases a stellar ensemble: Patricia Zhou as the Sugar Plum Fairy, alongside Chanelle Anthony, Christie Crosson, Tim Hodges, Lukas Hunt, and Rachel Muldoon. On the day of the review, Sam Salter was sidelined due to injury, and stepping into Clive’s shoes was Mark Samaras.

Samaras seamlessly embodies the role of a wide-eyed queer boy, exploring the world and carving out his vibrant, sequin-strewn place in it.

Melaco as Action Man skilfully transitions from stereotypical masculinity to nuanced expression (and from hot pants to a frou frou tulle), with his daring split jeté stealing the show. Patricia Zhou, in a standout solo as Sugar Plum, infuses the performance with a languid, sensual, and slightly dark undertone. Humour, like the sequined snowflakes armed with leaf blowers, adds a cheeky touch. Traditional national dances find a whimsical twist, morphing into fruit drinks showcased on a rainbow-coloured rack, each triggering a lively variation. The sentimental ending, with a heartfelt letter to Santa and a pink sequin Barbie car, tugs at the heartstrings.


Ryan Dawson Laight’s imaginative design swiftly brings the tale to life through seamless costume changes, unfolding in the cosy setting of a tiny apartment shared by Clive and his single father. Action Man and Clive don fluttering tutus, and Sugar Plum transforms into sequinned combats and a sparkling string vest. The dance effortlessly blends ballet-inspired contemporary movements with elements of ballroom and Latin, creating a celebration of authentic non-conformity. Joshie Hariette’s dazzling lighting enhances the ambiance, illuminating a sparse set adorned with a small Christmas tree and a snug two-seater sofa.


McOnie’s daring reimagining of this timeless classic provides a warm and delightful experience, akin to the soothing effect of a glass of mulled wine on a chilly winter day. Sip, sparkle and dance, for ’tis the season to be jolly! Nutcracker is at the Tuff Nutt Jazz Club, at the Southbank Centre, until 6 January 2024

Elena Leo is the Arts & Lifestyle Editor of Ikon London Magazine.