Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with press tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty for the purpose of this review
Forget the Sleeping Beauty familiar from the Disney animation. And – even though Matthew Bourne sets his Sleeping Beauty to Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet score – forget any ideas of pirouetting fairies in pastel tutus too.
Because, as is always the case with the boundary-pushing, visionary that is Matthew Bourne and his world acclaimed New Adventures dance company, this is a dark and dramatic retelling of the classic fairy tale, with a gothic edge and filled with the unexpected.
There are twists and turns aplenty in this production, and I don’t just mean from the dancers… although they are wonderfully nimble as they tell the story through dance of all styles.
It’s funnier than you would imagine for a start, with some skillful puppetry in the opening scenes as the free-spirited baby Princess Aurora creates havoc in her castle bedroom, much to the delight of the audience.
As Aurora ages, Ashley Shaw retains this free-spirited nature, dancing bare-footed and falling for the gardener Leo (Andrew Monaghan), giving us the roots of a love story, rather than our Sleeping Beauty being awoken later in the performance by a complete stranger. The pair make their duets, which feature some technically difficult moves, feel effortless and light.
This isn’t just ballet; it’s theatrical storytelling through dance and performers such as Daisy May Kemp as the nanny and Ben Brown as the dark fairy Carabosse and, later, her son Caradoc bring so much to their portrayals with body language and facial expression, as well as the dancing.
And then there are the vampires. Yes, really! I won’t give away too much but the darker undertones give the story a new lease of life that goes down really well with the audience.
Lez Brotherston’s set is decadent, but never too imposing. Golden pillars and heavy golden drapes frame the stage in the first act, which is set in 1890 (purposefully chosen as it was the year of the ballet’s first performance).
As the famous curse is imposed on the baby, faceless dancers give us a glimpse into the future – such a clever storytelling device. We move next to the Edwardian period, filled with light-coloured costumes and waltz-infused dances at Aurora’s coming of age party, while the feisty black and red of the final scenes depict the supernatural love story’s ‘happy ever after with a twist’ in the modern day.
A huge full moon at the back of the stage and subtle lighting creates such atmosphere.
I took my 13 year old daughter to the press night, this being the third of Bourne’s productions she’s seen following The Nutcracker and Cinderella. She’s enjoyed them all, but she said this is her favourite yet. We both loved the way the music remained classic but the story was so inspired and different to what you expect from the familiar fairy tale, the contrast working well.
The age guidance is 5+ with no admittance to under 2s. There are a couple of moments which more sensitive children may find a little scary but nothing too sinister (or no more than your average Disney film in any case). There were plenty of young children in the audience who all seemed to be loving the performance, although if they’re big fans of the Disney film it might be worth warning them in advance that this is a very different.
This touring version – in Cardiff until Saturday – marks the 10th anniversary of the production’s premiere, which itself was created for New Adventures’ 25th birthday celebrations, and very quickly became the fastest-selling production in the company’s history.
The only slight criticism from me is that, since the production originally opened, there’s been so much debate about the lack of consent in Sleeping Beauty of kissing someone who’s asleep, and this 10th anniversary production would have been the perfect opportunity for Bourne to truly bring his production up to date by finding a way around that. #
It lead to some interesting and important discussions with my daughter on the way home in any case.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 4 February, 7.30pm each evening plus 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are still available, from £18. Age guidance: 5+, no admittance to under 2s. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website here.
Photo credit: Johan Persson