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La Fille mal Gardee is on point

Things are hotting up on the farm: the sun is rising, insects are buzzing, chickens are dancing, and love is in the air – and not just amongst the birds and bees

Yep, it’s summer lovin’ at the Bristol Hippodrome, where the Birmingham Royal Ballet are performing the classic ballet La Fille mal Gardee.

Momoko Hirata as Lise with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo by: Gabriel Anderson

When wild-at-heart country beauty Lise and lusty hunk of a farmhand Colas fall head-over-heels for each other, it looks to be a match made in heaven – he’s cute as can be, and she’s crazy for him. Lise’s mother, Widow Simone – played with magnificent pantomime-dame panache by Rory Mackay – has other ideas however. She’s set her sights on an eminently more profitable pairing with Alain, the doltishly nice-but-dim son of super-wealthy vineyard owner Thomas. Bringing her effervescent and headstrong teenage daughter into line proves to be a near impossible task, and, as the illicit romance between Lise and Colas blossoms, Widow Simone is inevitably run ragged, to hilarious comedic effect.

Barton as Alain, Michael O’Hare as Widow Simone and Valentin Olovyannikov as Thomas with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo by Gabriel Anderson

Céline Gittens is brimful of flirtatious mischief as Lise, and is perfectly complemented by Tyrone Singleton’s youthfully ardent and muscular Colas. James Barton is superb as umbrella-loving, ungainly and clumsy Alain – all those years of classical ballet training put to exquisite use playing a clumsy simpleton with two left feet …

Butter is churned, scythes are wielded, corn is stooked, and the chorus fills the stage with a joyful and idyllic rural celebration of summer. In addition to those hopping hens, the production is an ebulliently ever-changing visual feast: there’s a slapstick clog dance, a slapping of sticks dance, a tender lovers’ ribbon duet, an intricate May Pole extravaganza, and (spoiler alert), with a huge ‘aaahhh’ factor, a real, live, tiny pony (playing a strictly non-dancing role)! A sudden summer storm (and a chaotic ‘rain’ dance) adds dramatic tension – sadly even Alain’s beloved umbrella can’t save him from looking like even more of a fool.

After a bit of mother–daughter bonding back at home as they dry out, Lise plans her escape, but is outwitted by her wily and watchful ma. Even after she’s apparently sealed the deal on her daughter’s future nuptials however, it is obvious that beneath Widow Simone’s starched and strict bosom beats a tender mother’s heart, and, as the balmy evening sun returns, true love conquers all.

Nao Sakuma as Lise and Iain Mackay as Colas. Photo by Roy Smiljanic

Inspired by his beloved Suffolk countryside, the choreography of Frederick Ashton’s last ballet is delicately intricate and utterly charming. Ferdinand Hérold’s music is eloquently performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the deft baton of Barry Wordsworth, while Osbert Lancaster’s beautiful sets evoke a misty-eyed bygone era of bucolic perfection.

Light and sweet as a pile of pastel-coloured summer meringues, this is a frothily entertaining, witty confection – a feel-good summer treat for the whole family, so catch it while you can before it heads off to pastures new.

Tzu-Chao Chou as the Cockerel with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo by Roy Smiljanic

CW (in her ballet flats)

On at the Bristol Hippodrome until Sat 7 July.

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