Instead...they built the Millennium Dome. A great spawling shell containing...emptiness. Think of the length of time it took to decide what to do with the damn thing. Think of the cost, dear readers. Think of the waste. Then think how different it could have been if only they'd decided to build it as a proper venue in the first place.
I trotted off to the Dome last week. It's now comfortable enough in its adopted skin as the O2, but still - what a missed opportunity it is. It doesn't feel only 12 years old: it has all the atmosphere of a miserable 1960s relic, with stairs that look as if they've been exported from the old Swiss Cottage swimming baths, and an all-pervasive smell of beer and burgers.
But the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker was of course the purpose of the visit. And whoosh - two bars of Tchaikovsky and the entire O2 was transported to dreamland in one swoop. It was absolute magic from start to finish. If this Nutcracker can transcend that venue, then it can do anything.
Here's my review, for The Independent. (Not sure if it has already appeared in the paper - it isn't online yet.)
Balletic bravura, dazzling transformation scenes, a giant flying goose – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has become a national favourite. Still, with so many different Nutcracker stagings grinding away this Christmas, especially in London, bringing it to the gaping spaces of the O2 had to be something of a gamble, and not only because of the challenge of selling enough seats. Can its dream magic survive the transition from traditional theatre to an outsize arena with popcorn and eat-in-your-seat pizza?
It also had to survive an unfortunate late addition to the line-up: Joe McElderry crooning three Christmas carols in hideous, sickly arrangements. Goodness knows why he was there. But as soon as the show got underway, the spell created by Tchaikovsky and BRB’s expertise spun its joys unhindered on the sizeable stage.
Moving this complex showpiece to a space that neither it nor the company had inhabited before must have been a gargantuan task, yet glitches were few and far between – just a little over-enthusiasm with the dry ice for the battle of the rats, perhaps. A large screen brought us the welcome option of close-ups, the amplification of the orchestra was unintrusive, and best of all, the superb cast seemed to rise to the evening’s demands by bringing out any extra percentage of energy they might conceivably keep in reserve.
In Peter Wright’s Nutcracker – his own choreography rubbing shoulders with Lev Ivanov’s and some by Vincent Redmon – the momentum of demanding dance scarcely lets up. The party scene brings us three generations of a family happily taking turns on the ballroom floor, from the excellent children to some lovely vignettes for David Morse and the great Marion Tait as the grandparents. Our heroine, Clara, is barely off stage in either act, although when she is finally transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy for the great pas de deux, it’s another dancer who takes over. Rather like bringing out Wayne Rooney for the penalty shootouts.
Still, Clara has plenty to do already, and Laëtitia Lo Sardo joyously captured the adolescent girl’s voyage of discovery as she balances on the cusp of womanhood. Her Nutcracker Prince was the dashing César Morales, Robert Parker conjured a flamboyant magician-uncle Drosselmeyer, and the unshakeable Nao Sakuma as the Sugar Plum Fairy offered a tranche of ideal classical control.
Did it work? The ultimate verdict must come from the many children in the audience – for in the interval, through those soulless, stadium-style foyers, virtually every little girl was dancing. That’ll be a ‘yes’.