The Secret Theatre – Scottish Ballet

Artistic Direction by Christopher Hampson and Lez Brotherston

Choreography by Christopher Hampson and Peter Darrell

Written by Sam Brown

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A creaky door, a ghost-light, and an ambition to see the sorcery which occurs beyond the crimson curtains. We’ve had peeks, perhaps even tours, but those of us outside of the secrecy and trickery of stage-magic will finally be able to truly fathom the enormity of spectacle which occurs beyond the safety curtain. The Secret Theatre, Scottish Ballet’s first featurette saves a special seat for the most dedicated and loyal of fans, with their free to view film which unravels the prestige of ballet in its most accessible, warming and intimate form yet.

Coaxing their successful run of The Snow Queen out of the frost, Scottish Ballet abridges their tale, infusing an original story, with a tribute and snippet of what was meant to be. Key scenes, from the travelling circus, to the dancing Snowflakes, are recreated in the enclosed space of the rehearsal studios – but erupts with enough enthusiasm and creativity to propel the audience into the realms of imagination and spectacle. The Nutcracker, due for a triumphant outing which never was, gains the ability to satiate audiences before luring them for more.

Enamoured with the sense of adventure a dark theatre poses, a young boy seeks to satisfy his curiosity. Slipping into a new realm of mysticism, velvet chairs and bespoke architecture, Leo Tetteh carries the wide-eyed enthusiasm of wonder as equally as he taps into the funloving contemporary nature of the free-flowing movement. Spending much of the story alongside Lexi, the Summer Princess from The Snow Queen played by Alice Kawalek, the pair form a charming bond as the young boy stumbles into the treasures and references of Scottish Ballet’s past, present and future. From their anniversary performance of Street Car to a quick Sailor’s Hornpipe and into The Nutcracker, the troupe dust off the esteemed costumes and designs in a fitting tribute to the company.

Then, of course, the movement. There is little to consider from the choreography of Christopher Hampson and Peter Darrell which we haven’t mentioned before, the aggressive stances of en-pointe throughout The Snow Queen, meticulously merged with the Eastern movements of folk-dance pair the finesse of French movement with a heavier, though no less beautiful, arrangement. And in the humblest of statements excels where the physically staged production of The Snow Queen fumbled. Whether this be the meticulously pointed movements of Constance Devernay’s return of the Snow Queen or the loose frivolity of Bruno Micchiardi’s Ringmaster – everything feels tighter, closer and refined to a precision. 

The inclusion of The Nutcracker suites, a touching moment and additional reason to watch demonstrates a purity in the artform from Jerome Anthony Barnes. Tying the ribbon as it were on the production, it brings a sense of closure with the unfolding interest piqued in the young boy as the allure of theatre and dance calls. Barnes and the effervescent footwork of our Sugar Plum Fairy, Sophie Martin, serves to accentuate the production as she stands toe-to-toe with her peers. 

Take a moment to pry your eyes away from the majesty of this nation’s principal dance troupe, as audiences must be encouraged to appreciate the tenacity, skill and understanding Scottish Ballet has for the art of cinema. The Secret Theatre proudly proclaims an adoration and admiration for the theatre, dance and live performance, but Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s screen direction elevates the production to a feature presentation which sits triumphantly among the Hollywood classics.

It all comes to fruition with the fall of The Snow Queen, as the manipulation of camera angles picks up the pace and incorporates the movement of the screen with that of the principal leads. The force in Devernay’s footwork is carried by the camera, hastily encircling the audience to bolster her talent and the shift in tone. This all plays directly into the calculatingly marvellous hands of designer Lez Brotherston, where the paper moons of the travelling caravans, sharp dynamic angles of the transitions emerge from the unlikeliest of props or scenic changes.

And as any familiar with Scottish Ballet know, they have perhaps the finest side-arm any production house could carry, the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. Weaving the melodies and sharp climbs of Tchaikovsky and Koraskov into the movement, the orchestra commands the space of the audience, whisking their comfortable living room into the illustriousness of a live theatre.

Ballet speaks to audiences, but it is a profoundly distant art-form. And no, this isn’t a criticism in the sentiment of dance, perhaps one of the arts most principal communicator, utilising the primal capability to move, but Ballet’s high-culture visage and intense skill-set push the audience into their seats, not onto the stage. It cannot rely on the quick-cut tropes of comedy or drama to forge an instant connection with the audience. Often, the viewers are no more than onlookers to the renowned splendour of movement, outside watchers so desperate to be involved. The Secret Theatre achieves something Ballet has struggled with for so long – it draws the audience directly into the movement.

And in watching the dancer’s expression, a distinction of merit and ability is expanded. The intimacy in which dancers play with the camera, smile and nod to the audience at home, rather than merely carrying out their rehearsed routine as if no camera were present, demonstrates the lengths in which Scottish Ballet push themselves, and remind the world why they should be proud of their local dance companies and theatrical venues. And why they are worth preserving for future danseurs, prima donnas and leading ladies forevermore.

Photo Credit: Andy Ross & Mihaela Bodlovic

The Secret Theatre will make a premiere to the public on December 21st at 6pm. Available to watch until midnight on December 24th, the show is free but tickets must be booked in advance via Scottish Ballet’s website,

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