Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. Theatre Royal, Nottingham. January 24 2023 (on tour till April). 4****. William Ruff

Nottingham

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

January 24 2023 (and on tour till April 2023)

4****

Review: William Ruff

@ReviewsGate

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (now 10 years old) has lost none of its magic

Matthew Bourne is as much a surgeon as he is a story-teller.  His vision can peer into the heart of something old, carefully snip its various tubes and then use it to pump blood into the veins of a story which is uniquely his and which has the power to be as timeless as it is thrillingly new.

Everyone knows that Sleeping Beauty is the fairy story in which a young princess pricks her finger, falls asleep for 100 years and then is woken up by a kiss from her prince.  And that it’s about good fairies and very bad ones.  In Bourne’s tale even those bare bones are shaken up.  For a start, ‘Princess’ Aurora (Ashley Shaw) has been gifted to a childless king and queen by Dark Fairy Carabosse (Jackson Fisch).  They should have been more grateful…but they forget to send a thank-you note, failing to realise that Carabosse is a champion grudge-holder.  Hence the curse, finger-pricking, 100 years sleep etc. 

In this version (now celebrating its 10th anniversary) the ‘prince’ is cute Leo (Andrew Monaghan), the royal gamekeeper, who may be poor when it comes to dosh but who has oodles of love for Aurora.  Luckily, Count Lilac (Dominic North), king of the Good Fairies, is at hand to turn Leo into a sort of zombie, so he’s still alive and loving when the 100 years have passed.  More good news is that evil Carabosse has faded away in the intervening years.  But there’s bad news too: her son Caradoc (also played by Jackson Fisch) is very much around – and hell-bent on revenge.

Some ballets are just rows of pegs on which to hang spectacular dances.  Matthew Bourne doesn’t work like that.  Right from the start the story comes first and its characters burst vividly into life.  It starts with a spine-tinglingly vivid silhouette of Carabosse and those magic words: ‘Once upon a time…’  The opening scene stars a puppet baby, so ingeniously mischievous that it threatens to upstage all that follows.  The palace servants tasked with child-care look like the most frazzled of baby-sitters.

And that’s just the first few minutes.  Story and characters continue to grip the audience’s emotions and imaginations through a series of spectacular scenes, some scary ones and lots which pack a hefty emotional punch.  There are beautifully colour-coordinated set pieces (such as Aurora’s sun-drenched al fresco 21st birthday party), as well as moments of touching intimacy.  Top classical ballet companies have gods as dancers, able to perform feats which mere mortals can only dream of.  Matthew Bourne prefers human beings – and that makes the drama so relatable.  In his hands the famous ‘Rose Adagio’ isn’t full of gravity-defying lifts: it’s the flirtatious, playful, funny behaviour of two young lovers. It’s just a pity that Tchaikovsky’s glorious music is recorded rather than live.

Bourne’s choreography may not always be spectacular in the classical ballet sense, but it constantly delights the eye as costumes/sets/lighting combine to paint breath-catching pictures, all used to energise and propel the story.  Good, evil, funny, serious: the mood can change rapidly but your emotions and sympathies always know where they should be.  The story never flags, the plot propelled to an ingenious, cheeky, love-filled conclusion featuring a bed and another cute puppet baby.  This is a Sleeping Beauty which thrills and delights the whole family – and many won’t want to leave its magical world when the curtain comes down at the end. 

NOTTINGHAM CAST  (TUESDAY 24 JANUARY)

CARABOSSE, the dark fairy                                Jackson Fisch

CARADOC, her son                                            Jackson Fisch

COUNT LILAC, King of the Fairies                      Dominic North

QUEEN ELEANOR                                               Kayla Collymore

KING BENEDICT                                                 Danny Reubens

PRINCESS AURORA, their daughter                   Ashley Shaw

LEO, the Royal Gamekeeper                             Andrew Monaghan

ARDOR, the Fairy of Passion                             Bryony Wood

HIBERNIA, the Fairy of Rebirth                          Hannah Kremer

FERAL, the Fairy of Spirit                                   Shoko Ito

AUTUMNUS, the Fairy of Plenty                       James Lovell

TANTRUM, the Fairy of Temperament             Stephen Murray

LORD RUPERT, Suitor to Aurora                        Cameron Flynn

VISCOUNT AUBREY, another Suitor                  Perreira de Jesus Franque

ARCHIE, Palace Footman                                   Benjamin Barlow Bazeley

BERTIE, Palace Footman                                   Ben Brown

FLOSSIE, Aurora’s Maid                                     Jade Copas

MISS MADDOX, Aurora’s Nanny                       Sophia Hurdley

Carabosse Attendants, Garden Party Guests, Tourists, Sleepwalkers, Caradoc’s Henchmen, Wedding Guests and Puppeteers all performed by members of the Company

Direction, choreography and new scenario                           Sir Matthew Bourne

Composer                                                                               Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Set and costume designer                                                      Lez Brotherston

Lighting designer                                                                    Paule Constable

Sound designer                                                                       Paul Groothuis

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