Review: English National Ballet in The Canterville Ghost at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 9 Mar 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 12 March 2007

There is nothing that can compensate for the rudimentary adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story which condemns Will Tuckett’s The Canterville Ghost to disappointing superficiality_._ The wit of the original is contained in Anglo-American rivalry as played out in the battle between the 300 year-old ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville and the Otis family from New York who move in to Sir Simon’s ancestral, Hampshire home, ‘Canterville Chase’. His spirit has chased away every family that came before, but there is nothing to suggest this long history of terrorising invaders; there’s also nothing much to suggest that the Otises are American and the stately home itself is a peculiar building that somehow confuses an Opera House with a dilapidated warehouse.

The whole of the first act creaks with half-hearted attempts to convey the narrative, ending up in the worst of all possible worlds. The Otises, their entourage and the Chase’s resident ghosts troop on and off stage almost interminably (the Otises enter the house by clambering across a theatre box at the side of the stage – why?) and yet their characters are still very feebly sketched – the father and mother remain particularly indistinct. But the greatest error of all was the decision to use narration to explain certain parts of the tale: not only is it a first degree crime against ballet, where movement, mime, music and design should carry the story, but here it’s so unbalanced in use; far too much at the beginning, nothing in the middle and then a quick couple of announcements at the end to explain the dénouement in case people were asleep, as I’m afraid some were bound to be. The voice of Tom Baker (Doctor Who and Little Britain fame) created more than simply a disembodied disconnection with the physical presence of James Streeter as the Ghost, going much deeper than just a basic failure to synchronise. It’s an unnecessary distraction that simply doesn’t work and a lazy way to describe any ballet.

Another big problem is that Tuckett’s choreography seems designed to fit a more intimate setting and struggled to utilise the space on the Sadler’s Wells stage – only at the beginning of the second Act with the underworld cabaret of ghostly characters did this problem seem less acute, but unfortunately much of this dance was obscured by ill-fitting costumes that were clearly designed for fun rather than unencumbered movement.

The only dancer who was able to make anything of her role was the fabulous Begoña Cao dominating her scenes as the bookish daughter, Virginia, who becomes the joint obsession of both the ghost and the local eligible bachelor, Cecil. This surreal love triangle is another example of the ballet failing to meet the challenge of the narrative: when The Ghost kidnaps Virginia, Cecil’s quest to find and save her should be as dramatic as the Prince’s rescue of The Sleeping Beauty, but here he just turns up – without preamble -in the midst of the Ghost’s planned wedding celebration. One of many missed opportunities that drag this poorly conceived venture well beyond the depths of mediocrity.

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