Matthew Bourne’s ”Sleeping Beauty” at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and on tour – review

Kayla Collymore, Shoko Ito, Christopher Thomas, Dominic North, Kurumi Kamayachi and Enrique Ngbokota in Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Kayla Collymore, Shoko Ito, Christopher Thomas, Dominic North, Kurumi Kamayachi and Enrique Ngbokota in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
© Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s version of a fairytale will always be bolder, more menacing and overall less pastel than their more traditional counterparts, and every addition made to Sleeping Beauty here serves that aim. In order to bring the story back to its darker roots, Bourne’s version pins the story down into real-time, so we begin with a royal family desperate for a child in 1890, princess Aurora pricking her finger on a rose in 1911 and finally woken in the 21st century. This allows for both a story that feels more horrifying – what does it mean to wake up in a completely different world to the one you grew up in? – and, most importantly, one in which vampires play a key part, with the fairy godmothers translated to mischievous, Lestat-de-Lioncourt-esque creatures of the night.

The original narrative also really benefits from a shift in the central love story – the prince who wakes the princess one hundred years after her fatal birthday party becomes Leo, the games master, sneaking into Aurora’s bedroom and falling in love with her before she falls asleep. The two of them, as played by Ashley Shaw and Andrew Monaghan, are delightful, dancing and hiding cheekily and playfully in the first half, giving real depth and emotion to their reunion at the end. There’s a different spanner in the works though, as fairy-vampire Carabosse (a wonderfully creepy Paris Fitzpatrick) also falls in love with Aurora, having watched over her for 100 years in a not un-Dracula kind of way. The differing choreography for these two couples is great, from the giddy and delighted to the sexy and brooding, and it really exemplifies the breadth of how the company uses ballet alongside other dance forms to serve the worlds they create.

Each of the settings across time are spectacularly realised by costume and set designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable. We move through the giving of the gifts from these fairies to a (scene-stealing) puppet baby Aurora, through a pre-war tennis game, the Lilac fairy’s hunt through a forest of ghosts and a final act given over to a vampire confrontation in a cabaret club, and every bit of the world of the ballet is perfectly fleshed out.

Overall, it makes for a show that feels like a properly Gothic fairytale that can blow away adults or children, with its balance of camp, giggles, and emotional punches.

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