Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Review of the production at Woking Theatre in February 2016. Published in Essential Surrey.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is a breathtaking visual feast from start to finish, an incredibly rich box of delights that oughtn’t to be missed.

Bourne has reimagined Tchaikovsky’s ballet as a dark gothic tale that starts in a fin de siecle royal household of servants and garden parties, and comes right up to date with its final scenes in a neon-lit nightclub. There are new characters and a new narrative structure that allows Bourne to take the old fairy tale and inject humour, wit, elegance and sex, and combine classical ballet with variations inspired by 20th century dance styles. There are even vampires (yes, really).

Princess Aurora, cursed by the evil fairy Carabosse and pursued by her equally evil – but magnetic – son Caradoc, is enchanted asleep on her 21st birthday, waking 100 years later. Captured by Caradoc she is rescued by Leo, her first love, assisted by Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies. The action switches from a luxurious palace, hung with rich fabrics and decorated in black and gold, to a summery garden, then to a fog-shrouded forest where the dancers run through glades of silver birch trees, and finally to a basement club, dark and gothic.

The whole cast is strong, with the ensemble pieces an absolute delight to watch, and the  three male principals are tremendous. Chris Trenfield as Leo is light hearted, but passionate, guarding for 100 years the entrance to the palace where Aurora is sleeping. Adam Maskell as Caradoc is powerful and charismatic, a brooding presence on the fringes of the birthday party, and the dark centre of his coterie of followers as he tries to force Aurora into marriage. And as Count Lilac, Christopher Marney is a joy to watch, orchestrating his troupe of fairies to bestow blessings on the baby princess, and facing down Caradoc in the final battle of good and evil.

The stage though belongs to Ashley Shaw as Princess Aurora, who got a deserved standing ovation at the end of the night’s performance. Moving around the stage like quicksilver, her early dances with Leo were light and playful, becoming intense and erotic in the scenes after she awakes from her long sleep. Shaw conveyed the emotions of Aurora in both movement and gesture, and was impossible not to watch whenever she was on stage.

The sets and costumes contribute to the evening’s experience, complementing and heightening the music and the performances. Lez Brotherton, the designer, has decorated the stage with sumptuous details that take the audience deep into the world of fairy tales and the imagination.

Sleeping Beauty tours the UK after its week in Woking, with dates in Wimbledon from 22 March. Get yourself a ticket for this stunning evening’s theatre to luxuriate in one of the best things you are likely to see all year.

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