' I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.'



Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty Hears Bumps in the Night

The commencement of award-winning choreographer Matthew Bourne’s latest production in 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of his acclaimed company, and is touring the UK until mid-May when it will continue with a host of international performances. Sleeping Beauty evokes much of the darkness of Charles Perrault’s original fairy tale whilst turning the plot on its head in a bold new retelling of this timeless story of malice, unconquerable love, and hope.  
            In this reimagined version, the King and Queen, desperate for a child of their own, invoke the aid of Carabosse the Evil Fairy who, offended by the lack of royal gratitude for granting their wish, curses the newborn baby, Princess Aurora, to prick her finger upon a rose and die when she comes of age in her twenty first year. The Good Fairy, Count Lilac, though unable to lift the evil curse, transforms it into one hundred years’ enchanted sleep instead. After his mother’s death, the Evil Fairy’s son Caradoc arrives at the Princess’s birthday celebrations and leads the doomed Aurora to her fate. When her secret true love, Leo (alas no prince, but rather the humble gardener’s boy) unintentionally eludes the Good Fairy’s slumberous enchantment over the castle, he must take drastic action and overcome the mortal implications of the long years that lie before him in order to awaken the sleeping princess, battle against Caradoc and his deadly, amorous intentions, and be reunited with his love once more.
Act one begins in 1890 (the year in which Tchaikovsky’s production was actually first performed), act two springs us forward to 1911, and act three then leaps resoundingly into the modern day when Aurora’s bewitched sleep finally ends. Lez Brotherstone, Liverpool-born designer, has created beautiful sets for all these periods and everything in-between. His designs are at the same time delightfully simplistic and gorgeously lavish: The Victorian interior of the castle is dominated by  a wide window through which the full-moon peers, only to be masked by a gigantic velvet drape that splits the stage in half;  the topiaries and rolling expanse of grass in the castle grounds of 1911 create the illusion of a bright and airy Edwardian summer’s day; A strange land of fog and lantern-covered trees acts as the dreamscape of the enchanted sleepers; the elegant red and black 21st century night club is the stylish haunt of fairies in the present day.  A cleverly designed set of double conveyor belts towards the back of the stage enables the cast to drift ethereally about all these sets, allowing for some incredible choreography.  
   In terms of music, it must be said that the overall impact of the whole piece is weakened to an extent by the lack of a live orchestra, despite the very admirable use of Tchaikovsky’s score by music producer Terry Davies sound designer Paul Groothuis. The thrilling atmosphere an orchestra can generate as it tunes up moments before curtain is something a sound system will simply never be able to match.
The cast performances, however, are truly unimpeachable. Huge credit must be given to dancer Hannah Vassallo, whose accomplished portrayal of the feisty princess is fantastically animated, in spite of the fact she spends a large portion of the performance’s latter half dancing as though asleep as well as blindfolded.
Dominic North’s acting and dancing skills are excellent, there’s no doubt, but even they can do little to inflate the somewhat regretably lacklustre quality of Bourne’s hero Leo, who tends to remain as two-dimensional as the archetypal figures of Tchaikovsky’s original masterpiece. Indeed, the relationship between the gardener’s boy and Princess Aurora somehow remains disappointingly hollow throughout. Far more convincing is the dark web of emotions belonging to the sinister yet charismatic antagonist Caradoc, whose disdain for Aurora quickly mingles with desire as he dances a seductively menacing pas de deux with her and later caresses her lifeless body in a memorable and skilful dance sequence.
Tom Jackson Greaves, who plays Caradoc, also shines in his alternate role as the Evil Fairy Carabosse, whose brief, regal and menacing presence is keenly felt, not least during the especially haunting moment she conjures up a ghostly vision of the future princess, who dances on stage costumed so as to appear faceless as she eerily prophecies the details of her future curse.
Not without humour, the second half of the performance opens in the year 2011 with a group of true-to-life modern teens vainly posing for pictures outside the briar-ridden gates of the castle, and the beanie-covered head of lovelorn Leo pops out of a tent with his endearingly mini set of wings revealed. Earlier in the performance, masterful puppetry very nearly steals the show as it has the mischievous baby Aurora scrambling about the stage, scaling curtains and sitting up inquisitively in her cot, all whilst interacting perfectly with the cast members.

Bourne’s fairies (three of either sex) are decked in glittering aristocratic finery trimmed with multi-coloured rags to hint at their wild, otherworldliness; each sports an unobtrusive set of delicate wings and a black mask-like strip of shadow across the eyes. Bourne instils these mysterious creatures with a figurative and literal bite: in a vampiric twist, good fairy Count Lilac, played by the talented Christopher Marney, takes heartbroken protagonist Leo (who has accidentally alluded the sleeping charm the fairy earlier placed across the castle) in his arms and sinks his teeth into his neck, granting him immortality and the means to await the awakening of his beloved in one hundred years’ time, reiterating the production’s subtitle: ‘A Gothic Romance’.
Though it is not without faults, Matthew Bourne’s is a strong and visually stunning adaption in which his unique style of choreography flows seamlessly together; his vast imagination takes root and blossoms in order to fill us with child-like wonder, like the storyteller extraordinaire that he is.

For more details on the show, visit:

(Photos sourced from the offical New Adventures website)

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