La Fille mal gardée at the Royal Opera House sounds very French and a bit naughty. But Frederick Ashton’s ballet could not be more English and pure. Set in bucolic England, it was, at its premiere in 1960, a pleasant antidote to all the kitchen-sink dramas on stage and film.

The ballet, pretty and charming, sweet and innocent, lyrical and sentimental, whimsical and farcical, was an immediate success with critics, the public and especially little girls who love Shetland ponies. Marie Rambert hailed the ballet as the first great English classic.

A widow’s daughter falls in love with a young farmer and thwarts her mother’s plans to marry her off to the idiot son of a wealthy farmer.

Undemanding for the audience, Ashton’s choreography is, notoriously, extremely demanding for the dancers. The production is excellently danced. Natalia Osipova is very girly. Steven McRae is very boyish. Evenly matched, fleet of foot, they make a tender and affectionate couple. They have a sense of humour. There are some dazzling leaps and spins, pirouettes and levitations. There are also some delightful dances with scythes, sticks and particularly pink ribbons which are put to a variety of pretty uses. The lovers, twining and ducking, create a cat’s cradle. The maypole dance is expertly executed. The cockerel and his hens are straight out of a 1930s revue.

Some may find La Fille mal gardée just a bit too twee, but a far greater number of people are going to love it, and rightly so: it’s a happy, joyful occasion.

Confessional is an unexpectedly dull title for a play by Tennessee Williams, who has so often come up with some of the most original and poetic titles, such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.

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