Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty is an amalgamation of old and new, a mixture of modern moves and a 19th century score that works to a large extent, but not entirely. Set in a number of periods – 1890, when protagonist and kidnap victim Aurora is but a child (portrayed by a slightly creepy puppet), 1911, when she is a vibrant 21-year-old, 2011, when her rescue occurs, and 'last night', at her wedding.
Bourne’s changes spice up the story and the score to strong effect. He changes the prince to a gamekeeper, Leo, adds vampires where there were none before and incorporates the tall, dark-haired Caradoc, son of evil fairy Carabosse, who does not exist in the original fairytale. Yes, it’s all a bit Twilight, perhaps deliberately so, but it works well as a dramatic device, making sense of the long time between Aurora’s sleep and her rescue, and making it interesting to a less specialist audience.
The parts of Carabosse and Caradoc are played by the same actor (Carabosse dies early in the piece, though this is unclear and hard to notice), in this case the masterful Adam Maskell, who skilfully creates fear and tension upon each entrance. It's a pity that the music does not quite tally up at times with his interpretation of the choreography, rising when you feel it should be falling and vice versa. This is particularly noticeable during Carabosse's visit to Aurora early on – but this is a problem that punctuates the entire piece, and not specific to his work.
Designer Lez Brotherston does sterling work as ever, filling the stage with beautiful scenes and moods; a wood full of lanterns, a moon that follows the heroine, a luxurious palace bedroom and an attractive garden scene are just some of his beautifully realised concepts. However, the use of two conveyor belts at the back of the stage feels lazy and visually distracting, especially early on, when the fairies ( arrive to give baby Aurora their gifts (excellent solos from all).
Hannah Vassallo makes a spectacular Aurora, throwing herself into the role – and the lifts – with gusto, and she is matched well by the fervour and nuance of Dominic North, who made an excellent Prince in Bourne’s Swan Lake not so long ago. He brings out the love and passion that Leo feels for Aurora, effectively communicating why he might wait so very long for her – this is particularly evident at the moment when Leo revives Aurora, only to immediately lose her to Caradoc's machinations.
Such a high level of performance is necessary due to the use of a recorded orchestra instead of live music, meaning the piece lacks in spontaneity and, sadly, can never really access deep emotional reserves. However, on the plus side, it’s visually gorgeous, is danced very nicely and is an unusual take on the tale – why not try something new?