Direction and Choreography by Matthew Bourne
Composed by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky
After a decade of slumber, now celebrating one hundred and fifty performances: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty has been weaving an intense sense of prestige and grace throughout theatres. The Brothers Grimm’s tale of dark fairies, thorns and eternal slumbers has been transformed into a Gothic Romance, one fitting the artform – and benefitting tremendously from New Adventures’ choreography and production.
But oh so much more than just an elegant form of ballet, Sleeping Beauty is garlanded with thorns, ready to prick the unassumed who take this piece for granted. One of passion by night, possessing the fangs to back this. Yet carries serenity and pace, which pays tribute to the fabled origins of the tale while embarking on an evocative use of storytelling movement to draw new audiences into its spell. In this incarnation, the fairies bestowing gifts upon the young princess Aurora have a more intrusional hand in her conception, her life, and her fate – protecting her in one way or another across her slumber at the hands of a cursed black rose.
Though Aurora spends a lengthy portion of Act One as a puppet, Cordelia Braithwaite still holds the young adult Aurora with the same penchant for mischief and mayhem but naïve beauty and innocence that the superbly performed puppetry initially achieves. Pointed and precise, Braithwaite matches the pacing shifts in Bourne’s interpretations of Tchaikovsky – ranging from more petulant, playful moments of the teenager first waking up to the temptations of quickening passion, and trapped in the realms of sleep – billowing like a feather in the wind. And when Braithwaite is framed by the shimmering majesty of the moon, brought to life with Paule Constable’s lighting, the show is nothing less than aethereal.
Alterations to the narrative allow for a more contemporary (and frankly, tasteful) demonstration of young love – one which blossoms into impassionate reciprocation but possesses an intense gentility to their duets, the catalyst being a gracefully tempered Rose Adagio which serves as a firm foundation to their emerging romance. There are no questions about the conviction of Leo’s adoration of Aurora, which makes it all the more palatable and believable that he would await her awakening a mere century later. Balancing Braithwaite’s poise with a core allowing for some solid lifts and carries, Rory MacLeod bestows a degree of character into Leo, the royal gamekeeper, more than any Prince could ever have had. Particularly as the later elements of the show incorporate a sense of fight into the choreography, Leo giving it his all to reclaim Aurora from the clutches of the vengeful, if snappily dressed, Caraboc.
As mother and son antagonists of this gothic romance, Ben Brown dons the wings of the original perpetrator of Aurora’s cure, Carabosse the dark fairy, and her son and avenger Caradoc. As Carabosse, the more familiar villain of the tale, Brown blurs the androgynous line with a very stoic and powerful command – firm movements and threatening posture ensure the dignity and threat of Carbosse is clear, whilst her Raven cronies run circles around a wonderfully performed Flossie, Aurora’s maid, Megan Ferguson imparting much comedy with tight spins and pirouettes of confusion. As devious as their mother, but with a more sinister ability to go unnoticed, Brown’s Caradoc endeavours to ensure Aurora’s 100-year sleep is achieved – though perhaps falls a little in love, or rather, lust, with the young princess himself.
He makes a firm match for Paris Fitzpatrick’s more light-footed – though no less powerful and commanding Count Lilac, King of the Fairies, often leading gorgeous ensemble performances with other fairies Hannah Kremer, Enrique Ngbokota, Liam Mower, Kurumi Kamayachi and Shoko Ito. Something which Bourne does finer than any in the field is instilling a sense of character and motion within the structure of storytelling: this is how you perform a contemporaneous fairy tale. The second act, initially dreaded with an influx of techno-pop or other mechanics to suggest the progress of time, is instead still as illustriously grand in its intensity but perceptiveness with the tale and Tchaikovsky’s score. The transition Aurora has into womanhood, the constant rebirth and ‘growth’ is noted throughout the production without the necessity of a ham-fisted approach. Everything is visible on stage for those willing to look, and it’s stitched together marvellously.
As are the curtains. Lez Brotherston’s set and costume, which advances from the late 19th century to rundown nostalgia in a uniquely respectful, still contemporary shape, is macabrely magnificent. The encroaching pillars, gilded and ornate, are still somewhat imposing in their guarding of Aurora from the outside world, offering both lavish scale and constriction. So when the sense of perspective shifts to the exterior of the palace, it makes for all the more playful and wonder to behold. But not even the vampires, the fairies, or the magic could prepare for the soiree of the finale, rich crimsons, and decadently gothic dribbles of a black and gold nightclub.
Set to the perfection of Tchaikovsky, the progression from conventional ballet to the more current idioms of alacritous movement, Bourne’s remounted Sleeping Beauty is everything one would desire in re-dressing this Grimm tale. A twisted tale draped with period detail, sharp physical humour, and farcical expression while instilling extravagance in both design and choreography. This is an exhilarating piece of magical storytelling, an alluring Gothic romance at a world-class level. You don’t have to wait 100 years for your dreams to come true – it’s there, right now, in Edinburgh, please just mind the thorns.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty runs at The Festival Theatre until April 15th. Tuesday – Saturday, 19.30pm with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 14.30pm.
Running time – Two hours and ten minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 8+
Tickets begin from £28.50 and may be obtained here.