Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance

No chance of forty winks here. Gone is the passive and dormant slumbering Princess — instead she zings with zest, life and energy. Matthew Bourne has done it again! And it works on a regional tour too.

We firstly encounter Aurora as a magicked baby Princess. She’s portrayed as a puppet — and rather than a baby slumbering in a cradle, she is full on, exhausting her attendants, dodging them, racing around at a crawl and comically clambering up curtains. Eventually the capering baby is captured and restrained in her cradle. Only for faeries to appear and give her gifts. Bolt upright, Aurora is awake and ready to dance along and be mesmerised by the dances. Given that she is a puppet, she’s incredibly reactive and enchanting. Carabosse appears with crashes of thunder and lightening (which are indeed very, very frightening) threatening death and doom — portrayed wondrously through ‘faceless’ dancers. Only the Lilac Faery has a plan and will send the Princess to sleep, to be woken by her true love — maddening Team Carabosse.

Somehow the adult ballerina playing the older Princess morphs perfectly from the puppet version, keeping the energetic, vivacious character and willfulness. Unlike other versions, this Princess really wants to marry her gardener and childhood friend Leo and definitely isn’t a fan of shoes (or clothes). There’s a lot of fun to be had as Leo hides around her bedroom and then from the party and suitable princes the Princess has to meet and greet. It’s a rose rather than a spindle which will be her downfall. Here too rather than a forgotten fairy — it’s the creepy lecherous son of Carabosse Caradoc who forces Aurora to dance with him and won’t let go — until she ‘dies’. Then walks away leaving chaos behind him — and a distraught Leo.

Less dramatic than the roses growing up of traditional versions and everyone floofing down to sleep, the Lilac Faery simply locks the gates and then gnaws on Leo’s neck to keep him alive for 100 years to rescue Aurora. In a neat touch the interval announces a 100 year wait!

Beautifully set in the 1890s and 1910s, we whizz forward 100 years to a land of myth, magic and selfies. Leo is still faithfully here, camping out in a tent. I’m not sure how he’s survived all these years, or how indeed he is a good vampire — but anyhow…Alarmingly Caradoc has got into Aurora’s chamber and is in ‘lust’ with her, having a horrible grope — before kissing her — and she doesn’t wake up. He does a horrible dance with her sleeping form. I’m not sure how this is possible when Lilac has the key — opening the padlocked gates with aplomb.

For the time being, Leo is running in slow motion after the Lilac Faery (how does he reconcile the bite?) to get to Aurora behind all the shrubberies and he kisses her back to life. Realistically Aurora comes back to consciousness — only with horror to realise that it is Caradoc. Conned into thinking it was him and in a Mask of the Red Death style scene, forces Aurora into a wedding with him. Urgh. He definitely treats Aurora as a thing here and her plight as she looks for rescue, for Leo, is heartbreaking.

Thankfully Leo and Lilac bust the joint and with relish, Lilac stabs Caradoc to death. Presumably this is his inner vampire kicking in. Leo and Aurora flee the mess — and in a realistic touch, we see how traumatised Aurora is after a 100 years of sleep and all that has happened to her. She was definitely with Caradoc against her will — there was no attraction there. Even in their pre-sleep dance he wasn’t kind. Gently Leo and Aurora rekindle their friendship (with a lot of tender hugs) and with kindness, back to love. They leap into bed — who knows what happened to the family and attendants and princes and visitors? and appear again with a toddler Princess walking between them. Only this one has wings! My brain cannot even begin to process the vampire-human relationship to pregnancy/birth logistics — just going to call it mythic and leave it at that!

The drama is really excellent, I love the baby Princess puppet, the characterisations excellent, the Queen’s Kokoshnik style tiara and the lavishness of the staging. However, some of the dancing suffers; the Caradoc creepy ballroom scene could have been a lot stronger (and reduced in length, with less of Leo and Lilac wandering about). Often the new versions of the Faery dances only leave you longing for what went before. No divertissements here — the Faeries have nicked their music. I do love the lighting and their dancing with ‘candles’ in Versailles-like mirrors in baby Aurora’s room with Lilac’s pose striking in shadow against the Moon at the end of the scene.

What works is Aurora and Leo — I really believe in their relationship and how much they genuinely like and care for each other. Additionally, we get to see fabulous popular dances of the 1910s in action — cake walking and perhaps the grizzly bear, the camel walk, the horse trot, the crab step, the chicken flip, the kangaroo dip, and the bunny hug. The King and Queen are not only tender parents, very concerned for their menaced baby daughter, but wonderful waltzers — even if they do stupidly force their daughter to dance with Caradoc sealing their doom. The Queen’s grief at Aurora’s apparent death is deeply portrayed. Meanwhile, the cause of the grief — Caradoc — is super creepy and dances superbly — swishing about in a white coat, which makes him look as though he’s escaped from a stylish lab, and highlights the interloper he really is, concealed in clothing to match the others around him. But he’s not to be trusted. The Nanny also does tremendous work in fighting off family Cara and protecting the baby Princess.

I did like Leo being sussed out by all the creepy ballroom people as he looks urgently for Aurora, and the dance off fight between Lilac and Caradoc; Aurora and Leo are a joy to behold. Contrasted with the horror of Aurora potentially marrying Caradoc. Still wondering what happened to everyone else — are they still sleeping?….

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Cultures: Arts Reviews and Views by Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....Theatre, Movies, Dance & Art!