Theatre Review | Manon, The English National Ballet – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

The English National Ballet has brought Manon to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre for just four days, before it heads to the London Coliseum in January.

The tour – for Manon has already been to Milton Keynes and Manchester – means that those of us not ‘lucky’ enough to have direct access to London’s overflowing art scene have the chance to experience world-class dance that we may not otherwise have the opportunity to see.

Fortunately for us in Southampton, the Mayflower keeps us well fed on exciting and top-notch productions (I contributed to an article on this for Broadway World UK earlier this month).

Manon is another such wonderful dance production, and I had the pleasure of going to see it on Halloween; no tricks for me that night; just treats!

English National Ballet in Manon

English National Ballet in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

Choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates, and designed by Mia Stensgaard, this production is rarely toured in the UK, and so this really is an exciting opportunity to see something different!

Manon tells a tragic yet decadent tale of love and luxury in three acts. Manon is destined for the convent and meets her brother Lescaut en route. While at the inn, she encounters a young student called Des Grieux, and they run away after falling madly in love with each other.

Unfortunately, a man called Monseuir GM is also enchanted by Manon, and he and Lescaut chase after the lovestruck pair.

No spoilers here; but what ensues is a tale of temptation, trinkets, and tragedy.

Joseph Caley and Alina Cojocaru in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo.

Joseph Caley and Alina Cojocaru in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

I decided to read the synopsis before I watched the performance in order to help myself with the storyline. This was my third ballet; my first two being very different versions of Cinderella, a story with which I am very familiar!

With ballet being so focused on dance, with no dialogue, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the plot, and I knew that I would struggle to understand what was going on if I didn’t familiarise myself with characters and events beforehand. I really do recommend doing this. It doesn’t spoil the experience for you, unlike if you did the same with theatre; it just enables you to enjoy the performance and the spectacle of it all.

I absolutely adored this performance.

It is mesmerising. The dancers flow seamlessly across the stage, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. The dancing is delicate and beautiful and a real pleasure to watch; though the entire performance is without speech, it is clear that the movements are doing all the talking.

Katja Khaniukova and Jeffrey Cirio in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo.jpg

Katja Khaniukova and Jeffrey Cirio in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

With such a large company of dancers, the stage is full for the majority of the time; at one point, a bustling inn – the next, a ‘hotel of ill repute’. There are so many entertaining figures accompanying the leads, it’s hard to know where to look; a true testament to the skill and detail of the production. Every dancer has their moment.

The company is superb. Erina Takahashi as Manon herself is enchanting and supremely talented and had me completely captivated throughout the evening; her chemistry with Jeffrey Cirio as Des Grieux is palpable and they move together seamlessly.

Francesco Gabriele Frola’s imposing Lescaut commands not only Manon’s attention, but the audience’s too. Indeed, each and every performer deserves recognition for a seamless and dazzling production.

Joseph Caley and Alina Cojocaru in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo (4).jpg

Joseph Caley and Alina Cojocaru in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

What I love about ballet – especially this one – is that it is surprisingly amusing for something considered so formal! Never underestimate classical performances. Manon, though tragic and heartfelt for the majority of the time, is also highly entertaining, with moments of true comedy.

Drunks and flirts line the stage and manage to cause chaos while still delighting with dance. The balance between the serious (and sometimes slightly unsettling) with the silly really does make the evening all the more enjoyable.

The whole production is woven together through the opulent design. Stunning costumes and beautiful sets gild the performance and set the scene beautifully. From the fun frills of the bonbon-esque dresses worn by the dancing girls, to the delicate rags of the servants; from the iced jewels trimming Manon’s own wrist and neck, to the simple frock they replace, Manon is a complete visual treat.

Jeffrey Cirio in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo (3).jpg

Jeffrey Cirio in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

A ballet isn’t complete without the music, either, and the orchestra, directed by Gavin Sutherland, keeps us mesmerised with a beautiful score throughout.

I entered The Mayflower completely unaware of what to expect from Manon, and left feeling truly charmed and delighted. This is a really beautiful ballet that should not be underestimated, especially if you are inclined more towards familiar titles and storylines.

A combination of a heartbreaking storyline and gorgeous choreography, design, and performance, this production is something truly special and should not be missed.

Manon is pure magic on stage; prepare to be dazzled.

Manon is at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 3 November.


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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.

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2 thoughts on “Theatre Review | Manon, The English National Ballet – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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