Bristol Hippodrome

Sleeping Beauty, March 2016

 

Goth horror on tip-toe

 

Everyone knows the classic fairy tale The Sleeping Beauty. That tale about a new-born princess, who gets cursed by a disenchanted fairy, sleeps for 100 years only to be reawakened by a handsome prince whom she marries, and then lives happily ever after.

Written by Charles Perrault at the end of the 17th century and reworked by the Grimm Brothers in the mid-19th century it was set to music and ballet by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa in 1890.

The story has been immortalised in poetry, art and film ever since.

Then choreographer/director Matthew Bourne got his hands on the plot and in 2012 crafted his own dance version completing his trio of re-imagined Tchaikovsky ballet masterworks that started in 1992 with Nutcracker and most famously in 1995 with the international hit Swan Lake.

As ever he was assisted by three of his regular collaborators and New Adventure Associate artists Lez Brotherton (set and costume), Paul Constable (lighting) and Paul Groothuis (sound design).

And this week his production Sleeping Beauty, which has won three Los Angeles drama critics awards and the Ovation Award for best production, is running at the Bristol Hippodrome.

Bourne’s staging introduces several characters not seen in Petipa’s famous ballet or Grimm’s fairy tale. This imaginary kingdom is ruled over by King Benedict and Queen Eleanor. And the Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora, is in love with the humble royal gamekeeper, Leo. Representing the central forces of good and evil are Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies and the Dark Fairy, Carabosse. Bourne has also created the character of Caradoc, the sinister but charming vampire son of Carabosse, and who plays a major role in the performance.

Act One opens in 1890, the date of the original ballet, and then jumps forward to Aurora's coming-of-age in 1911, when she pricks her finger and falls asleep for 100 years until 2011. And if you wonder, as most of the audience does, how mere-mortal Leo will be around when Aurora awakens 100 years later - think fangs, neck-biting and the undead; Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampire fairies and the Twilight Series.

All very Victorian gothic horror and post-punk goth revival.

Returning to the role of Aurora is rising star Ashley Shaw. Ashley recently played Lana in the triumphant revival of The Car Man, and has also played Kim in Edward Scissorhands, Sugar in Nutcracker! and the title role in Cinderella. She perfectly represents the light-hearted persona of the princess, full of fun, playful, flirty and somewhat skittish. Technically superb her dancing style, artistic expression and passion illuminates the stage at every appearance. Her pas de deux with Leo, played by the strong and assured Chris Trenfield, are a joy to watch, with some gravity defying lifts that really capture the spirit of young love.

Chris has this year been seen as Luca in The Car Man and played the role in the SkyArts TV broadcast in August. One of New Adventures most versatile leading men, he has also been seen as Tony in Play Without Words and the title role in Nutcracker!

But, for me, the real star of the show is Carabosse’s compellingly sinister son, Caradoc played by the imposing Adam Maskell. He simply oozes evil. His is the foreboding presence at the Edwardian garden party in 1911 at which he tries to seduce Aurora and where she pricks a finger and falls into her century-old slumber. Embittered and lonely he guards Aurora’s sleeping body, both desiring her and wishing to destroy her before his spectacular role in the good-versus-evil denouement at the end of the story.

A special mention is required for Christopher Marney as Count Lilac, the vampire King of the Fairies, and the traditional fairy variations performed by Kate Lyons, Katrina Lyndon, Jack Jones, Katie Webb and Liam Mower. Their solo dances in Act 1 created an excellent and distinctive character for each of them. And their arrival, adorned in colourfully layered tutus, on a smoke-concealed conveyor belt was great fun.

Perhaps a note, too, about the appearance of the baby Aurora in the opening scene – an unnervingly lifelike puppet, manipulated with great skill by black-hooded puppeteers. Some amusing moments as the brat-child climbed the curtains and drove everyone mad.

There was enough classical ballet and contemporary dance in this production to satisfy both the purists and the more avant-garde and Tchaikovsky’s music, although taped, was as moving and emotionally uplifting as ever.

But there were disappointments in this show.

Matthew Bourne set the bar high with his magnificent Swan Lake – universally acknowledged as one of his finest productions collecting more than 30 international awards.

So my expectation for Sleeping Beauty was therefore high. Sadly, too high.

Lez Brotherston's set and costume designs were good but only what you might normally expect in any routine production; Paul Constable’s lighting was efficient without being outstanding and Paul Groothuis’ sound effects (the odd crash, bang, wallop) were hardly memorable. The narrative unfolded quite nicely in the first two time periods (1890 and 1911) and the ages were well captured by the set design. But 2011, other than with an odd appearance by a small group of 21st century tourists, never captured the spirit of the modern age. And the story line seemed to have nowhere to go. Whereas in traditional theatre, the show steadily builds to a (hopefully, overwhelming) climax, this production faltered and fizzled into what appeared to be time-filling dance routines before poor old Caradoc got his just desserts and Aurora adjusted to her media driven techno age.

No doubt the A-'evel students in the audience will get their teeth into the many allusions to the conflict between good and evil but there was a two-dimensionality to this production which left me wanting.

The show received a somewhat hesitant standing ovation, but one rather suspects that cast family and friends (including Matthew Bourne) were in abundance on this opening night!

 

Mike Bisacre

 

PREVIEW: Viva Sleeping Beauty revival

 

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty has been revamped by the great choreographer and plays the Bristol Hipprodrome from Tuesday, March 1, for one week.

This haunting gothic tale of good versus evil and rebirth is turned upside-down, creating a supernatural love story that even the passage of time itself cannot hinder.

This tour is its first revival and Bourne’s new scenario introduces several characters not seen in Petipa’s famous ballet or Grimm’s fairy tale.

This imaginary kingdom is ruled over by King Benedict and Queen Eleanor.

Princess Aurora’s romantic interest is not a prince, but the royal gamekeeper, Leo.

Representing the central forces of good and evil are Count Lilac the king of the fairies and the dark fairy Carabosse.

Bourne has also created the character of Caradoc, the sinister but charming son of Carabosse. Princess Aurora’s fairy godparents are characterised by their names - Ardor, Hibernia, Autumnus, Feral and Tantrum.

Returning to the central role of Aurora in this first revival is rising star Ashley Shaw.

Ashley recently played Lana in the triumphant revival of The Car Man, and has also played Kim in Edward Scissorhands, Sugar in Nutcracker! and the title role in Cinderella.

Cordelia Braithwaite made her debut with New Adventures in Swan Lake in 2013 and has since featured in this years revival of The Car Man, covering the role of Lana.

Cordelia makes her debut as Aurora this season; her first principal role with New Adventures.

The leading role of Leo will once again be played by Dominic North and Chris Trenfield who co-created the role in 2012.

Dominic holds the distinction of appearing in more New Adventures productions than any other dancer and was most recently seen as Angelo in The Car Man.

Count Lilac will be portrayed once again by one of New Adventures most accomplished performers Christopher Marney, and in his third principal role for New Adventures this year, Liam Mower.

The twin roles of Carabosse and Caradoc will be shared by two charismatic New Adventures performers; Adam Maskell who co-created the role in 2012 returns to the company having previously featured in Dorian Gray, Nutcracker!, Play Without Words and as The Angel in Cinderella. Tom Clark makes his debut in a Principal role with New Adventures following roles in Swan Lake, The Car Man and as Jim Upton in Edward Scissorhands.

King Benedict will be played by Will Bozier (Edward Scissorhands) Glenn Graham (Swan Lake, The Angel in Cinderella and The Car Man) and Chris Trenfield. Queen Eleanor by Pia Driver (Swan Lake, The Car Man, Edward Scissorhands), Nicole Kabera (Edward Scissorhands, Nutcracker!, The Car Man, Swan Lake) and Katie Webb (Swan Lake, The Car Man).

The ballet premiered in 2012, and was the fastest selling production in the company’s history.

Bassed on Perrault’s timeless fairy tale, about a young girl cursed to sleep for 100 years is was turned into a legendary ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographer, Marius Petipa, in 1890.

Bourne takes this date as his starting point, setting the christening of Aurora, the story’s heroine, in the year of the ballet’s first performance; the height of the Fin-de-Siecle period when fairies, vampires and decadent opulence fed the gothic imagination.

As Aurora grows into a young woman, we move forwards in time to the more rigid, uptight Edwardian era; a mythical golden age of long summer afternoons, croquet on the lawn and new dance crazes. Years later, awakening from her century long slumber, Aurora finds herself in the modern day; a world more mysterious than any fairy story!

Sleeping Beauty plays nightly until Saturday, March 5, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday.

Tickets from £18.40 with concession.

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