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Review: Sleeping Beauty (Theatre Royal Stratford East)

Matthew Xia directs this re-worked version of Sleeping Beauty for Theatre Royal Stratford East

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Krystal Dockery (Fairy Stardust) in Sleeping Beauty
© Scott Rylander

In the original tale of Sleeping Beauty, the princess is under an evil curse and asleep for so much of the time that it makes her, says director Matthew Xia, 'the most inactive central character in the history of storytelling'.

Clearly that won't do in modern times, so in this sparky re-telling by Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton, the princess is a forest-dwelling eco warrior named Scarlett. She becomes her own hero through the magic of time travel – and her prince needs rescuing from a malevolent spell just as much as she does.

Warming up the audience with a lively singalong is Krystal Dockery, who charms throughout as Fairy Stardust. But the opening scene itself is a bit gloomy for a fairy workshop and struggles to establish enough sense of magic and wonder.

The pace picks up with the arrival of Queen Pearl, played with zest and good humour by Shaun Prendergast, who also establishes a great rapport with the audience. He's ably assisted by Joshua Elliott as a saucy King Percy.

Ericka Posadas shines as Princess Scarlett, whose kick-ass attitude is belied by her irremediably kind nature, which leads her straight towards the witch's deadly spinning wheel.

There are plenty of boos and hisses for Josephine Melville as the murderous fairy Mauditious Le Vicious, who delivers a particularly entertaining duet and dance-off with Alice Frankham's sassy Mirror Antoinette.

Mauditious' ruched and bustled costume – complete with huge pointed fingernails on black gloves – is just one of designer Lily Arnold's fabulous creations. The robotic outfits worn in the futuristic scenes set 100 years hence are catwalk ready, and Mauditious' space-age gear even features digital boots.

Philip d'Orléans directs the effective balletic slo-mo fight sequences, and MD Lee Freeman leads a lively band in a mix of rebooted pop tunes plus original music and lyrics by Robert Hyman.

There's one lively dance routine based on the Floss, choreographed by Rachael Nanyonjo, but this production could do with more dance numbers, not least in the curiously static rendition of "Thriller" where the attendant robots don't so much as tap their toes.

Some performers appear to be struggling with their vocals at times, but this improves immeasurably in the second half of the show. Crisper diction would also help in some of the original numbers, where the lyrics aren't always clear.

This is a lively and enthusiastic performance that's full of imagination and great ideas. It just needs a little more of the crispness and clarity that's necessary to fully engage a young audience.