Matthew Bourne’s Gothic-inspired Sleeping Beauty isn’t your average fairy story. The production, which opened Monday night at Milton Keynes Theatre, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from the opulence of Lez Brotherston’s beautiful burnished gold and black set, to his exquisite costumes.
This is a thrilling fantasy filled with wit, romance, and, would you believe, vampires. But they seem entirely at home in a story whose origins are buried in ancient folk lore.
Bourne’s New Adventures’ revival of Sleeping Beauty has been met with universal acclaim and the 2016 leg of the national tour, which launched from MKT just days after its Xmas residency at Sadler’s Wells, is assured of the same success.
The dancing is, of course, flawless, inspiring, and inventive but, more than that, the theatricality of the production will delight theatre-goers who aren’t traditional ballet fans.
Visually, this is a show that enchants with its story-telling.
Accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s sweeping music we meet the unashamedly scene-stealing star of the production, a remarkable baby called Princess Aurora who leads her nannies a merry dance, climbing curtains, making bids for freedom and kicking out with her tiny feet and fists when they try to keep her in check.
She’s a tiny firecracker with a curiosity about everything. So the arrival of a herd of fairies, led by Count Lilac, King of the Fairies (Christopher Marney), fills her with interest.
The babe’s parents, King Benedict and Queen Eleanor, have failed to pay their due respects to the dark fairy, Carabosse, who helped the childless couple have a child.
An outraged Carabosse vows revenge and, as we all know, the fairy story has our heroine pricking her finger on a rose thorn, falling asleep for a 100 years and being awoken by the man of her dreams.
Bourne’s interpretation of the story includes both a heroic romantic lead and a gung-ho fairy king who fearlessly defends the royal princess.
More unusually his production uses a vampire as a plot device (I don’t think that the choreographer hasn’t really thought this through to its logical conclusion but it’s a novel concept).
Ashley Shaw’s feisty Aurora turns the traditional idea of a simpering heroine on its head. She’s headstrong and wilful, falling in love with Leo, Dominic North’s handsome royal gamekeeper, rather than her parents’ choices.
Her 21st birthday is a lavish set piece set in an Edwardian era tennis garden party that’s gate-crashed by a tall, mysterious, pale-skinned stranger who looks like he’s escaped from Nosferatu.
Tom Clark (also playing Carabosse) mesmerises her, pulling her into an uncomfortable embrace for a passionate pas de deux but, before he can claim her, the dance is replicated, with outright joy and clear delight, between the princess and gamekeeper.
Clark gives a powerful performance as evil incarnate. His height and build makes him a mismatched lover for the tiny princess but he is, nonetheless, a commanding presence on stage.
When we later return to Sleeping Beauty a century has passed and groups of kids stop for selfies outside the derelict and haunted mansion that’s guarded by Leo, who waits for the moment he can enter.
The story throws in a few plot twists before building to a dazzling cliff-hanger set in a sleazy nightclub run by a psychotic avenging angel.
This is probably not a Sleeping Beauty suitable for smaller family members. There are adult themes there if you want to find them. If not, sit back and luxuriate in a dazzling production that will leave you spellbound.
Thrilling and enthralling, Sleeping Beauty runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday. Don’t miss it.
2016 UK Tour dates
January 26-30, MILTON KEYNES THEATRE February 2-6, NEW VICTORIA THEATRE, WOKING February 9-13, BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME February 16-20, EMPIRE THEATRE, LIVERPOOL February 23-27, ALHAMBRA THEATRE, BRADFORD March 1-5, HIPPODROME, BRISTOL March 8-12, THEATRE ROYAL, NORWICH March 15-19, MAYFLOWER THEATRE, SOUTHAMPTON March 22-26, NEW WIMBLEDON THEATRE, LONDON April 5-16, THEATRE ROYAL, NEWCASTLE April 19-23, THEATRE ROYAL, NOTTINGHAM April 26-30, WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE, CARDIFF.
Matthew Bourne enchants with his revival of Sleeping Beauty. A sumptuous feast, from the opulence of the burnished gold and black set, to the exquisite costumes and flawless dance performances.