Many excellent dance films have premiered during the pandemic but they have invariably been filmed dances rather than feature films enhanced by the medium of dance. Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple (working together as Jess and Morgs) have bucked that trend, using their mutual background in dance to make inventive films, in which movement is a powerful ingredient; including Curing Albrecht (2017) and Cinderella Games (2019) for English National Ballet and Tremble (also 2019) – a film about red jelly – for Scottish Ballet. They have continued to break the mould of tired dance films by returning to Scotland to direct The Secret Theatre, their first full-length feature, which offers much more than just a different way of presenting dance.

Leo Tetteh
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Conceived by Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet’s CEO and artistic director, working alongside the acclaimed designer, Lez Brotherston, The Secret Theatre is a metaphor for reawakening closed theatres, a fact that is emphasised in Hampson’s introduction where he lists all the theatres that Scottish Ballet would normally have visited in their now-cancelled Christmas season. The film also reawakens the legacy of the company’s past Christmas repertoire with elements of choreography from the late Peter Darrell and of Hampson himself, sewn together (with the assistance of Sophie Laplane) and matched with the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, arranged with additional passages by Frank Moon. In a further example of cooperation between the English and Scottish National Ballets, ENB’s music director Gavin Sutherland conducted the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and since they were unseen during the performance it was good to have the orchestra featured in the closing credits.

Bruno Micchiardi (The Ringmaster)
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The film is viewed through the inquisitive eyes of a young boy (Leo Tetteh) as he discovers an empty theatre while playing with his football in the streets of Edinburgh. Gradually the vacant space comes to life after he frees Lexi (Alice Kawalek) from a cane laundry trunk and the pair set off on their backstage adventures. They discover a mothballed Victorian circus led by an enigmatic ringmaster (Bruno Micchiardi) with a cast that included Nicholas Shoesmith as a comic strongman, Kayla-Maree Tarantolo as a ballerina and Thomas Edwards, a jaunty sailor. However, the appearance of snow and a sinister hooded figure leads to Leo and Lexi’s flight on a magic carpet to become extras in the joyful dancing at a Roma encampment until once again the arrival of an icy foreboding sends the revellers into hiding.

Leo Tetteh and Alice Kawalek (Lexi)
© Mihaela Bodlovic

In this secret theatre, the worlds of the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy have collided. Constance Devernay is icily imperious as the former, turning both the showman and the gypsy leader into her snow wolves and imprisoning Lexi in a towering shard of ice before Leo’s thundering penalty kick shatters that frozen cell and releases the enchanted from the Snow Queen’s spell.

Constance Devernay (The Snow Queen)
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Sophie Martin lends sparkling elegance and glacial beauty to the Sugar Plum Fairy, partnered by Jerome Anthony Barnes who became the young boy’s adult persona to perform superbly as the dashing Nutcracker Prince. Set against curtains of colourful Christmas baubles, this was a memorable finale. Brotherston’s designs were glorious, merging flavours of The Greatest Showman with Don Quixote, 42nd Street and Frozen into a rich tapestry of evocative theatrical imagery to create different worlds for each episode.

Sophie Martin (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Jerome Anthony Barnes (Nutcracker Prince)
© Andy Ross

This film has been much-anticipated and often such pre-publicity builds expectation only to result in disappointment but not so in the case of The Secret Theatre, which further accentuates the credentials of all concerned, not least the exciting film-making reputation of Jess and Morgs. Their film will last long in the memory as a perfect antidote for these toxic times. It may not be a vaccine but The Secret Theatre engenders a welcome feeling of euphoria, which is just the tonic to combat Tier 4 tears. 

This performance was reviewed from the Scottish Ballet video stream