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Dominic North as Count Lilac and company. Pictures: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Birmingham Hippodrome


On a frosty evening, Birmingham Hippodrome hosted the 10th anniversary production of Sir Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty – a gothic romance’.

It begins in familiar territory – leaving you with the warm feeling of hugging a hot water bottle on a cold winter’s night, as the comforting storybook beginning beamed on to the curtain – giving the slightest nod to Disney before transporting you to Matthew Bourne’s universe.

It is a universe which Bourne’s fans know all too well – a fantastical world of wit and grace, cleverness and desire, surprise and destiny. In this world, which always offers an escape from the mundanity of modern life, there is always a sense of anticipation of the enjoyment to come.

This New Adventures production takes a story which feels well-trodden and subverts it, adding vampire fairies and a modern day twist.

From the very start, it offers something new – the baby Aurora coming to life via skilled puppeteers and getting laughs that actors in other productions would give their back teeth for. These initial exchanges are important as they establish the heart of the piece with Rory MacLeod and Isaac Bowry as footmen and Jade Copas and Sophia Hurdley as Aurora’s maid and Nanny respectively, doing a fantastic job of dropping the audience into a relationship, firmly establishing the bond between the audience and the aura of Aurora, before the excellent Ashley Shaw has even taken to the stage.

Indeed this importance of establishing personal connections extends to whom we would normally identify as ‘the prince’ – in this case Andrew Monaghan’s Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper. Traditionally the ‘prince’ only wakes the sleeping beauty with the slightly creepy concept of an unconsented (and unconscious) ‘loves true kiss’.

leao and aurora

 Ashley Shaw as Aurora) with Andrew Monaghan  as Leo

Thankfully gothic romance dispenses with this narrative and instead takes the time to actually invest the audience in their relationship, which is blossoming before cruelly being cut short by the evil Caradoc, son of the Dark fairy Carabosse – both played with a  sinister edge by Ben Brown (I was severely tempted to boo him – in a good way).

The vampire angle is to enable our love story to span the centuries, after a forlorn Leo is bitten by Count Lilac, king of the fairies, played with aplomb by Paris Fitzpatrick.

That’s enough of the spoilers – integral to the audience’s transportation to another realm is the costumes and set design. Lez Brotherston is truly a masterclass in both – creating a sprawling, inventive set and sumptuous costumes which accentuate the fantastic dancers who reside within them. Added to this there was an innovative edge to the lighting (courtesy of designer Paule Constable), which lent an intense and intoxicating atmosphere with shadows and reflections adding layers of complexity to the other worldly feel to the production.

The dancing, as you would expect, was magnificent at times – with my highlight being the sleeping dance between Aurora and Caradoc – with Ashley Shaw’s dancing being nothing short of sublime – you really have to see it to understand how astonishingly good it was.

The music, recorded by the Sleeping Beauty Orchestra in 2012, was so well handled, it could have been a live performance and really does Tchaikovsky justice.

Overall, this really is a fantastic production and yet again testament not only to the skill of Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures Team but also to their determination to foster new and emerging talent – indeed 13 of the 27 dancers in the Sleeping Beauty company have come through the New Adventures’ talent development programmes with the 3 dancers emanating from Elmhurst Ballet School just down the road in Egbaston.

Coupled with the Hippodrome’s very own Hippodrome Education Network, it’s nice to see the arts investing in young and local talent and even nicer to see said talent delivering in bucketloads.

Sleeping Beauty is a fantastic production and is on until Saturday February 11th (the matinee performance on the 11th is audio described). With limited availability for some performances and other dates sold out, if you do want to go – then it’s best to book ASAP. You can do so here. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket – you’re in for a real treat.   

Theo Clarke


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