beauty head

Beauty and the beast:  Ashley Shaw  as Aurora and Adam Maskell as Caradoc. Pictures: Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Birmingham Hippodrome


MAGNIFICENT! That’s all you really need to know really. Of course convention dictates more needs to be said, but that one word sums it up.

Sir Matthew’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s third great ballet is perhaps his most narrative and complete to date, a modern ballet with a strong storyline, which seems to have evolved and matured since it first passed througLeo and Aurorah the Hippodrome three years ago.

The same can be said of the audience with a near full house now representing every age group.

Sleeping Beauty opens to a frightening silhouette of an evil presence holding a baby in a gloomy set of Les Brotherston gothic. Sir Matthew’s long time collaborative designer has created a bedroom with huge golden pillars, but with a gold that looks like burnished coal, dark and foreboding, in a palace inhabited by King Benedict (Chris Trenfield) and Queen Eleanor (Nicole Kabera).

The childless royal couple enlisted the help of the evil fairy Carabosse, and her dark arts saw the birth of Princess Aurora, but when the fairy from the dark side was not thanked to her liking, she unleashed enough forces to fill a three act ballet.

Dominic North as gamekeeper Leo and Ashley Shaw as Princess Aurora

There are variations from the original in this reimagining, a touch of the vampires, for example, while instead of a dashing prince needed to waken the sleeping princess, it is her secret love, commoner Leo the Royal gardener and gamekeeper, tasked with the wake up kiss.

Still there though is the prick on Aurora’s finger on her 21st birthday to send her to sleep but it is Caradoc, son of Carabosse, who introduces the soporific thorn rather than his dark fairy mother, who has passed away since inflicting the curse in this version.

And Caradoc is determined to make the King and Queen pay for the way he perceives his mother was treated, the son being in his mother’s image, just as evil and just as vindictive, made even more intense by both roles being danced by Adam Maskell – which gives a whole new meaning to Oedipus complex.

Maskell is just superb, slow, measured and sinister, exuding evil with every step as he first condemns Aurora to eternal sleep then tries to waken her for his own carnal desires.

Aurora is just the opposite. Danced by Australian Ashley Shaw, a gCount Lilacraduate of Birmingham’s  Elmshurst School of Dance, she is full of innocence and youth, playful and coquettish.

Her foil is Leo, the gardener/gamekeeper, her secret love who enters her room through the window and has to hide whenever parents or the hordes of staff appear. Danced with great charm by Dominic North, his pas de deux with Aurora are memorable.

And then there is Christopher Marney, excellent as Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies, who commutes Carabosse’s spell on Aurora from a death sentence to deep sleep. His is a lifelong battle with the evil side of his fairy kingdom which leads to the final dramatic confrontation between good and evil, Count Lilac v Caradoc in a fight to the death. No prizes for guessing the winner here.

Christopher Marney as Count Lilac, King of the Fairies

Around them we have a supremely elegant garden party with another imaginative set from Brotherston, fairies, who perform a series of excellent first act solos, maids and servants, tourists and a 70s style disco in blood-deep red as Caradoc preens himself in his seat of evil. We have all known clubs like that . . .

Brotherston’s sets are big and worth a bow of their own, from the dark gold palace walls to an enchanted forest, to the garden party and the huge, wrought iron gates and railings shutting off the sleeping palace from the world.

The set also incorporates two moving pavements which create imaginative dance effects while the narrative is enhanced by a homage to silent movies with the story filled in with words of explanation projected on curtains and drops.

A mention to for Paule Constable who has lit the production and its Victorian gothic themes quite beautifully and also Paul Groothuis's sound design from thunderclaps to the weighty rumblings of the closing walls of railings making them sound as heavy and doom-laden as the gates of hell.

It is imaginative, clever, funny, dramatic, deliciously dark, and on Press night all the elements were wonderfully executed to create something quite special - and a standing ovation said it all. Actually, as I said at the start, magnificent said it all. It’s all you need to know. To 13-02-16.

Roger Clarke



The Beauties Awake!

As part of The Hippodrome’s continuing relationship with Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, for the 6th consecutive year (prior to a performance of the main production of Sleeping Beauty) there will be a short dance piece highlighting the emerging talent of local young dancers aged between 12 and 18, and student choreographers.

Working with professional choreographers – Clare Palethorpe and Joe Walkling (New Adventures Dancer) – the young people will create their own response to Sir Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. The main performance of Sleeping Beauty on Thursday 11 Feb will commence directly after the Curtain Raiser, so the finishing time will be slightly later than usual.

Matthew Bourne's New Adventures Tour Dates & Tickets


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