Reviewed by Matthew Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is out on a national tour, and as night follows day with Bourne’s productions it arrives at the Lowry just in time for the transition from Autumn to Winter.
This is the third in Bourne’s Tchaikovsky trilogy of ballets, which transports us to 1890. King Benedict (Danny Reubens) and Queen Eleanor (Kayla Collymore) have everything other than what they desire the most, a child. For this they enter into a pact with Carabosse (Paris Fitzpatrick), a dark fairy with extraordinary powers. Princess Aurora is delivered to the happy couple, but the situation soon turns sour as Carabosse feels slighted by the lack of recognition she receives from the king and queen and plots a revenge on the royal family, targeting Princess Aurora.
However, Princess Aurora has a great number of guardian angels looking out for her. First there is her nanny, Miss Maddox (Stephanie Billers), and the palace serving staff. In addition, the Princess is under the protection of Count Lilac, (Dominic North), the King of the Fairies and his troupe of fairies. A failed attempt by Carabosse to get to Aurora is thwarted by Count Lilac, and her many protectors. However it is revealed what fate awaits Aurora, that of an eternal slumber unless she is awakened by her true love.
The action shifts to 1911. Carabosse is no more, however Caradoc, (Paris Fitzpatrick in a dual role) her son has vowed to continue his mother’s vendetta.
Princess Aurora (Ashley Shaw) has now come of age. She is being courted by numerous suitors from the aristocracy, however she only has eyes for the Royal Gamekeeper, Leo (Andrew Monaghan), and he feels the same way. Despite the love they have for one another they must keep their relationship a secret, which allows Caradoc to take advantage of the situation, implementing his mother’s plot and extracting the ultimate revenge. If Leo has any hope of breaking the curse he must use the help of Count Lilac, which sees the story take an unexpected but not unwelcome detour.
There is so much to enjoy and admire about Bourne’s take on this classic fairy-tale. The movement of the entire cast is exquisite, light, and fun throughout. It manages to draw you in and hold your attention from start to finish.
The playful energy is apparent from the get-go with the introduction of baby Aurora, a feisty, ball of energy, climbing the curtains and causing all manner of mischief. Other highlights are the introduction of Count Lilac and his fairies, a real treat for the eyes, a great sense of fun set against the backdrop of a huge intimidating full moon, it looks fantastic. Whilst the courtship between Aurora and Leo is a joy, played like a farce, it’s a lot of fun which could lead to an alternative title of ‘Carry on Princess’.
This is billed “A Gothic Romance”, and boy does it deliver, visually it looks stunning. The sumptuous costumes and set design by long time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston is a mix of vibrance and colour in stark contrast with the dark, brooding castles and forbidden forests. It fully captures that aesthetic we come to expect from classic fairy tales. One sequence where we see two faceless dancers, is as beautiful as it is haunting, and such a powerful image.
Personally, I always like the humour Bourne pumps into his productions, from the huge set pieces, with baby Aurora, to little visual gags, that puncture the production, it always makes the shows warmer and more accessible.
This is everything you’d expect from one of the world’s leading Choreographers. He takes a traditional fairy tale, tinkers with its format slightly, injects it with warmth, humour and gives it a soul, finally to be played out by a team of performers and creatives all at the top of their game. It’s a winning formula that will entertain and delight, culminating in a fantastic visual experience, well worth a trip to the theatre.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at the Lowry until the 26th November. Tickets available here.