By Judd Hollander
With a crash of thunder and the stirring sounds of Tchaikovsky's music, Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty bursts wonderfully upon the
stage. Drawing inspiration from several sources - including the Grimm's fairy
tale and Disney animated film - as well as new material created especially for
this production, the work is able to stand completely on its own thanks to director/choreographer's
Bourne's vision. City Center
This particular tale begins in the year 1890 where a childless King (Edwin Ray) and Queen (Daisy May Kemp) implore Carabosse, the dark fairy (Tom Jackson Greaves) to bless them with the offspring they so desperately seek. Carabosse grants their request, but when the new parents fail to show the proper gratitude in return, the now-angry fairy descends on their castle with a pair of hellhoundish-like servants to place a curse on the infant child. One which will destroy her when she comes of age. Fortunately all is not lost as Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies (Liam Mower) and some of the magical creatures under his command arrive to save the infant Princess Aurora (played by a marionette as a child - wonderfully brought to life by the puppeteers in the Company - and Ashley Shaw as an adult). Yet even though Carabosse is defeated, her son Caradoc (Jackson) returns years later to wreck vengeance in his mother's name. This time, the best Count Lilac can do is soften the curse and place
into a deep sleep until her one true love arrives to break the spell.
This is a production filled with universal themes: good versus evil and the power of true love being the two most obvious examples. There's also a hint of class prejudice present - as shown via Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper (Dominic North) who
seems to love dearly, but as she's quite literally a pampered princess, she
also enjoys the company of high society and all the attention that goes with it.
Through it all, Bourne takes great pains to leaven out the more serious
sequences by tossing in some enjoyable moments of merriment. Such as when the
palace servants try to care for the tantrum-throwing infant Princess while her
parents just flit in and out to dote on her now and again. Showing quite
clearly how it takes a village to raise a child and that doing so is not all
fun and games. There are also some funny moments in the beginning of act two -
set in 2011 - when a group of kids with iPhones take pictures of themselves in
front of the now-closed up castle which has become overgrown with rose bushes. Bourne
also nicely shows the wonderment the child Aurora first experiences when the
fairies appear at her bedside one night.
Just as interesting are the way the various acting styles themselves unfold. At first everything shown seems slightly off-center; as if what we're seeing isn't quiet real, with movements that look quite stiff - apparently deliberately so - with the different characterizations feeling only half formed. Something that also carries over to the dancing. It's only when Aurora becomes a young woman and she and Leo are together do the tightly controlled movements really start to explode, with everything becoming more fluid, graceful and flowing. In both dance and expression.
Some of the best dancing occurs in the second act where Caradoc holds the sleeping
captive, and who is now determined to make her his unwilling bride, yet needing
Leo's love to waken her after 100 years of slumber. While Cardoc's plans are
unfolding, Leo is involved in a mission of his own. That being to find Aurora, while Count Lilac
does whatever he can to aid him in his search. This entire extended sequence
being a variation on the "quest" storyline with Leo having previously
being given the ability to remain near the Princess thanks to Count Lilac in one
of the more erotic moments of the production.
Mower is wonderful as Count Lilac, a sort of combination avenging angel and noble guardian. His various movements filled with passion and a determination to make sure
ultimately survives the tragedy that has befallen her. Shaw is great as Aurora, her dancing and
actions showing the exuberance of youth, the wonder of first love and the
restraints and liberation that come with the privilege and position she holds. A
particularly enchanting scene, one bordering on farce, occurs as Aurora is getting ready
for a party with her friends and parents when Leo sneaks in and Aurora must take great pains
to hide Leo's presence from others who walk in and out of her room. The nature
of the story limits Shaw's performance at times, particularly in the second
act, but she still rises to the occasion when called for. Who knew that a
sleeping person could be so animated?
Greaves' performances come across as strong and impassioned. Playing both the dark and foreboding Carabosse, arriving in manner akin to a Disney villain, and her vengeful son, eventually becoming almost animalistic in his actions in the latter role. Caradoc's evil plans making him a good contrast for the heroic Leo, North nicely embodying the qualities of both rebelliousness and impetuousness as he too comes of age in this timeless tale, the two playing off each other well in their eventual showdown.
Bourne has a strong handle on what he wants to present, his directorial and choreographic efforts succeeding flawlessly while working in the various dance styles - ones which range from quietly subdued to those brimming with an athletic grace - into the storyline he helped envision. Juggling both moments of humor and despair, as well as those of hope and desire, he is able to make the entire production come brilliantly together in a cohesive and very satisfying whole.
Also deserving of credit are the various costumes by Lez Brotherston, which are wondrous to behold. Brotherston's impressive sets also working well in helping to set the atmosphere for the overall story.
Wonderfully conceived, beautifully executed to showcase a rich tapestry of both dance and performance, Sleeping Beauty is a joy from start to finish and a fine feather in the cap of Matthew Bourne as well as everybody else connection with the production.
Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance
Featuring: Edwin Ray (King Benedict), Daisy May Kemp (Queen Eleanor), Ashley Shaw (Princess Aurora, their daughter), Dominic North (Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper), Liam Mower (Count Lilac, King of the Fairies), Tom Jackson Greaves (Carabosse, the dark fariy/Caradoc, her son), Mari Kamata (Ardor, the Fairy of Passion), Katy Lowenhoff (Hibernia, the Fairy of Rebirth), Joe Walkling (Artumnus, the Fairy of Plenty), Dena Lague (Feral, the Fairy of Spirit, Luke Murphy (Tantrum, the Fairy of Temperament), Daniel Collins (Lord Rupert, Suitor to Aurora), Danny Reubens (Viscount Aubrey, another Suitor), Mami Tomotani (Miss Maddox, Aurora's Nanny), Pia Driver (Flossie (Aurora's Maid), Leon Moran (Archie, Palace Footman), Phil Jack Gardner (Bertie, Palace Footman)
Carabosse Attendants, Garden Party Guests, Tourists, Sleepwalkers, Caradoc's Henchman, Wedding Guests and Puppeteers all performed by members of the Company.
Directed, Choreographed, and New Scenario by Matthew Bourne
Music Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and Costume Design by Lez Brotherston
Set and Costume Design by Lez Brotherston
Lighting Design by Paule Constable
Sound Design by Paul Groothuis
Associate Director: Etta Murfitt
Associate Choreographer: Christopher Marney