Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 1st – Saturday 5th March 2016
Matthew Bourne’s “SLEEPING BEAUTY”, devised, directed and choreographed by the great man himself, is currently showing at The Bristol Hippodrome. Premiering in 2012, “SLEEPING BEAUTY” was created for New Adventures’ 25th birthday celebrations and completed Matthew Bourne’s trio of re-imagined Tchaikovsky ballet masterworks that started in 1992 with Nutcracker! and, most famously, followed on in 1995, with the international hit Swan Lake.
You’re probably familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty but Bourne’s new scenario introduces several characters not seen in Petipa’s famous ballet or Grimm’s fairy tale. Perrault’s timeless fairy tale, about a young girl cursed to sleep for one hundred years, was turned into a ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographer, Marius Petipa, in 1890. Bourne takes this date as his starting point, setting the Christening of Aurora, the story’s heroine, in the year of the ballet’s first performance; the height of the Fin-de-Siecle period when fairies, vampires and decadent opulence fed the gothic imagination. As Aurora grows into a young woman, we move forwards in time to the more rigid, uptight Edwardian era; a mythical golden age of long Summer afternoons, croquet on the lawn and new dance crazes. Years later, awakening from her century long slumber, Aurora finds herself in the modern-day; a world more mysterious than any Fairy story!
The imaginary kingdom is ruled over by King Benedict and Queen Eleanor. Princess Aurora’s romantic interest is not a Prince, but the royal gamekeeper, Leo. Representing the central forces of good and evil are Count Lilac (“the King of the Fairies”) and the Dark Fairy Carabosse. Bourne has also created the character of Caradoc, the sinister but charming son of Carabosse.
Sleeping Beauty Highlights
The scenery is grand, featuring various settings inside and outside of the opulent, gilded palace: the Princesses bedroom, the distant palace on a hill and later, the overgrown forest which has taken hold. The airport style travellator at the rear of the stage is an interesting feature – I don’t recall having seen one in a performance before!
The mischievous puppet-baby Aurora is adorable, provoking laughter and gasps of wonder from all sides. Praise must go to Sarah Wright for giving the company a masterclass and helping bring the baby alive. Your students did you proud Sarah!
We enjoy the silly solos performed by Princess Aurora’s Fairy Godparents, Ardor (Kate Lyons), Hibernia (Katrina Lyndon), Autumns (Jack Jones), Feral (Katie Webb) and Tantrum (Liam Mower) as they try to amuse the demanding little Princess!
The story leads us through more than a hundred year timeline with Aurora’s birth in 1890, her coming of age during the golden Edwardian summer of 1911 and her re-awakening in the present day with costumes, acting and dance styles reflecting these different periods.
Ashley Shaw is just amazing as Princess Aurora, whether dancing solo or alongside Chris Trenfield (playing Leo). When they dance together there’s a trust between them which is most clear when Ashley launches herself at him with the abandon of one of my boys dive-bombing into the swimming pool! He catches her effortlessly of course.
A rather scary opening with the silhouetted dark fairy Carabosse wielding the screaming baby princess is quickly over and there’s nothing which might worry my seven year old after that.
One of the questions the boys frequently ask me when we’re deciding which shows to attend is whether there will be any dialogue or singing. My youngest is aware that there won’t be, so when giant titles appear, his face lights up and he enthusiastically starts reading …
“Once Upon a Time …”
…a bit too enthusiastically perhaps, so I have to remind him not to read out loud. It’s fine because nobody else seems to have noticed – well either that or they’re just too polite to shush him!
Despite the unconventional story line my seven year old has as good a grasp on the plot as any of us – if not better. When the baby princess is suddenly replaced by a young man and woman wearing blank, featureless face masks, he asks:-
“Are they showing them the future?”
Ah yes my boy, I think you could be right.
He also picks up on a certain event involving a vampire and explains how Leo still manages to be alive when the princess awakes after her century of enforced slumber.
At seven he’s old enough to understand and enjoy this performance. Now if they could just incorporate a bit of dialogue into ballet that would be the icing on the cake 😉
There’s so much action and such a variety of dance styles that at different points I’m reminded of other ballets I’ve seen: Aurora’s feistiness as the young princess brings to mind The Taming of the Shrew, The secret lovers make me think of Romeo and Juliet and the puppet like sleep-dancing takes me back to Coppelia. This isn’t a ballet as we know it with females dancing elegantly en pointe. In fact much of the dancing is performed barefoot. Oh and there’s no orchestra either – Tchaikovsky’s score has been pre-recorded.
At the end of a fabulous first act I realise that the Sleeping Beauty plot I’m familiar with would offer little scope for the tension which is present in Mr Bourne’s version, as we know that normally our Princess would be guaranteed to be woken by her handsome Prince. In this performance who knows what might happen next? I like the adapted story.
The first act is fast paced, funny, interesting and a complete joy to watch. The second seems slower and retains our attention a little less. Overall we enjoy the show tremendously and conversation in the car on the way home is lively with all four of us, from the seven year old to the seventy somethings, offering plenty of differing opinions and interpretations. Thought provoking and beautiful it is, but we didn’t ever imagine Matthew Bourne’s “SLEEPING BEAUTY” would be conventional, did we?!
MATTHEW BOURNE’S SLEEPING BEAUTY
Tuesday 1st – Saturday 5th March
Evenings at 7:30pm
Matinees on Wed & Sat at 2:30pm
Tickets from £18.40
Concessions available on certain performances
DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW.
ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN.