Review – Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Nov 28 2012 | By More

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Publicity image for Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Publicity image for Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Festival Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

A clatter of thunder heralds Matthew Bourne’s darkly disturbing new take on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s sweeping and wonderfully textured score, this exudes energy and desire – with a recording that takes it right to the edge of darkness.

Here, in a world which opens in 1890, just as the original ballet was first being performed, dark forces are gathering. And if there can be fairies at the bottom of the garden, then not only can some of them be bad but there can be vampires too.

Bourne climbs the heights of storytelling panache. He strips the story back to its edgy take on the coming-of-age and sexual awakening of a young woman. And all his embellishments exist only to further that narrative.

Choreographically, the story is all. He never attempts to replicate the heady bravura elements of dance made famous by the ballet’s original choreographer, Petipa. Or, indeed, of Margot Fonteyn’s Rose Adage embellishments.

Which is bound to disappoint some audience members. But for sheer edge-of-the-seat excitement it gets right into the crevices of the mind – where it will no doubt fuel dreams and unconscious thoughts wherever it goes. And in terms of dance forms, he cleverly brings out those which were popular at the times it is set.

This is, quite emphatically, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, then. Not Tchaikovsky’s, not Petipa’s, but Bourne’s.

Glistening, intricately outfitted fairies stalk the open window of the infant Aurora’s bedroom. Gliding in on moving walkways, they pay their respects and drop feathers into the lap of the infant Aurora, portrayed as a life sized puppet, ever attentive to her fairy protectors but the bane of her nurse’s life.

A vaguely disturbing presence

A black rose, sparkled with rubies, is what the malevolent Carabosse brings. His curse that Aurora will prick her finger on a rose and die. A curse softened in the usual way by Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies, who remains a vaguely disturbing presence throughout the ballet.

Skipping lightly forward to 1911, Aurora is coming of age and still giving her guardians grief. She’s in love with Leo the gardener’s boy, and wants nothing more than to dance barefoot. Instead, a white-clad tennis party is her lot as Leo looks on.

If the choreography doesn’t have show-stopping, applause-inducing moments, it certainly does its job. The waltz when Carabosse’s son Caradoc sweeps Aurora up is a wonderful piece of observation as the attentive company lose interest and it turns into vicious puppeteer-like manipulation, all done in plain view.

Aurora and Leo’s pas-de-deux is made all the more charged as it starts from the point of a lover’s tiff after she ignores him at her party.

But as the inevitable happens, Bourne has to find a way for Leo to be present another hundred years hence. And as the gate of the palace closes on the lad in the dying bars of the first half, you realise that just as not all fairies are good, not all vampires are bad.

It’s a twist which allows Bourne to let the whole of the second half to move right away from the familiar. What has been merely a clever iteration away from the original now moves apart by several clear orders of magnitude.

In this fairy world of vampires, Leo must journey past ever-more corporal beings, from wraiths to full-blown vampires, as he attempts to pull his Aurora from Caradoc’s grasp.

A brilliantly inventive night of storytelling ballet. Not for those who demand en-pointe turns and successions of athletic leeps. But if you like your fairystories dark – in the Twilight perhaps – then this is an evening which will sit in your memory for a long time after it has passed. And which you will want to re-visit.

Running time 2 hrs 10 mins.
Run ends Saturday 1 December.
Festival Theatre, daily 7.30pm.


27 Nov – 1 Dec EDINBURGH
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
4 Dec 2012 – Sat, 26 Jan 2013 LONDON
Sadler’s Wells
0844 412 4300 Book online
29 Jan – 02 Feb MILTON KEYNES
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
Birmingham Hippodrome
0844 338 5000 Book online
12 – 16 Feb GLASGOW
Kings Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
19 – 23 Feb WOKING
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
26 Feb – 2 March HIGH WYCOMBE
Wycombe Swan Theatre
01494 512000 Book online
5 – 9 March CARDIFF
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
12 – 16 March BELFAST
Grand Opera House
028 9024 1919 Book online
26 – 30 March BRADFORD
Alhambra Theatre
01274 432 000 Book online
2 – 6 April NOTTINGHAM
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
9 – 13 April LEICESTER
Leicester Curve
0116 242 3595 Book online
16 – 20 April NEWCASTLE
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
23 – 27 April LONDON
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
30 April – 4 May LIVERPOOL
Liverpool Empire
0844 871 3017 Book online
7 11 May BRISTOL
Bristol Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
14 – 18 May CANTERBURY
Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
21 – 25 May SHEFFIELD
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
29 May – 2 June RAVENNA, ITALY
Ravenna Festival
ON-SALE SOON Book online
11 – 16 June MOSCOW
Chekhov International Theatre Festival
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