Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty ★★★★★

Matthew Bourne takes the traditional Sleeping Beauty ballet and gives it a very Gothic makeover

If Matthew Bourne didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. He truly is a necromancer of dance, taking staid, bloodless ballets and re-animating them so they are bursting with life and colour. 

Take the traditional ballet of Sleeping Beauty. There’s not a lot for modern audiences to engage with as a story. The fairytale goes that after being snubbed by the Royal Family, a malevolent spirit seeks revenge with a tall-tale Netflix documentary series by placing a curse on the Princess that can only can be undone by a kiss from a Prince. Issues of consent aside, it’s not exactly gripping. You could easily join Aurora for a nap and miss little.

Ten years ago, Bourne unveiled his reimagined Gothic take to the world, including a Christmas run at Sadler’s Wells. It seems fitting that a decade later Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty should return to Sadler’s. 

All images by Johan Persson

His version sees Carabosse “procuring” a baby for the King and Queen but receiving no thanks for it. Naturally she curses the child. When Aurora reaches 21, with the dark fairy now dead, her son Caradoc succeeds in cursing the Princess to fall asleep for 100 years. Her true love, Leo (the Royal Gamekeeper) is frantic to be around when she wakes up and finds a particularly Gothic solution…

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is an absolute feast for the eyes. Delicious decadence is the order of the day. Lez Brotherston‘s costume and set design convey the wild, Gothic fantasy on every inch of the stage. The Palace is a sumptuous Baroque affair with golden Corinthian columns and shimmering gilt frames complimenting the huge sweeping brocade curtain swags (hilariously becoming the perfect climbing opportunity for the puppet baby Aurora).

Brotherston brilliantly captures the lengthy timeline of the piece with costumes reflecting each given era. It’s 1890 when baby Aurora is born (coincidentally the year Sleeping Beauty originally was performed) and so the royal household are distinctly Victorian with court uniforms and bustles. When it moves forward to 1911, Edwardian tea gowns and Norfolk jackets are the order of the day. And finally when the Princess wakes up after 100 years, the couture is suitable 20th Century.  

However it is with the fairy characters that he allows his imagination let rip. They have a luxury-meets-feral punk aesthetic: mussed-up hair, shredded skirts, Gothic wings and a robber’s mask of eye shadow. There’s a duality to their visual impact being both scary and otherworldly while at the same time sexy and alluring.

Bourne’s choreography is captivating. Ever with a keen eye for crystal-clear storytelling, he will use a waltz here or a tango there so the narrative and the emotion of the story is always delivered. Paris Fitzpatrick is superb in the duel role of the malevolent Carabosse and the skin-crawling Caradoc, imbuing each with such different energies that many may not realise it’s the same dancer.  Andrew Monaghan impresses as Leo, the gamekeeper, investing the character with energy and fun. He is the perfect partner to the wonderful Ashley Shaw‘s Aurora. Shaw is nimble and adroit regardless of the many styles of dance she is required top perform. From the exuberance of boisterous joie-de-vivre of the young Aurora to the jerking angular shapes of pricking her finger on the cursed dark rose and finally to the disorientation of waking to be married to Caradoc, you cannot take your eyes off this mercurial, empathetic performance. Particular mention must made made of the exquisite lifts and impassioned leaps by both our leads.

Bourne’s direction is geared to make the big moments count while still driving the story at a pace. The shadow play at the start revealing the menacing Carabosse, the ethereal floating entrance of the fairies on moving walkways, the faceless Princess and Leo, the irresistible drama of when Aurora pricks her finger, the homoeroticism of Count Lilac giving Leo the vampire bite to make him immortal (less a bite than a three-course buffet), the Palace in a cobwebs, the neon blues and saturated reds for Aurora’s wedding to Caradoc, the witty and genuinely warm ending. This Sleeping Beauty is bursting with imagination and unforgettable moments. 

That Matthew Bourne has taken the bloodless traditional ballet and filled it with vigorous new life, does make us wonder if there may be another vampire at work here! 

Fangtastic Fantastic and Imaginative Reworking by the genius that is Matthew Bourne  ★

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty Tour

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty runs at Sadler's Wells until 15 January 2023 and then continues on a UK tour through to April 2023

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