Review: 5***** Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty – New Wimbledon Theatre

#Tweetingit – Matthew Bourne’s chorography and storytelling abilities never cease to amaze. This is ballet like no other you will ever see (until your next MB show!)

ballet 6As we took our seats in New Wimbledon Theatre to watch a production of Sleeping Beauty I was a little concerned. I have seen Sleeping Beauty before and it makes me anxious. It is a technically demanding ballet; I have seen dancers look strained performing it, and then the second act of the ballet abandons any story line in favour of endless solos that play no part in moving the plot along; it is just not my idea of a fun night out.

I should not have worried, because as the familiar Tchaikovsky music started and the performance began, there were some rather big differences between the classical ballet and what was happening on stage in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, I love classical ballet but Matthew Bourne brings something completely different and totally mesmerising to the stage!

ballet 5The set, designed by Lez Brotherston, was spooky and gothic looking. In fact, the entire way through this show, the set was detailed and beautiful. If you can, it is worth taking your eyes off the dancers for just a moment to admire the little touches that help create an entire other world on stage.

The story began in 1890. Some clever puppetry brought the character of Baby Aurora to life and the first few scenes are both mesmerising and funny, as Aurora climbs the walls and causes mischief. The company use several different puppets for the baby, allowing them to create a character that can move like a small child. Missing from so many other interpretations of sleeping beauty, you see the relationships between the princess and her family develop, watching her grow from a cheeky baby into a vibrant and headstrong young woman.

A highlight during the first act was watching the Fairies dance around the crib for Aurora. ballet4Each dancer portrayed an individual character distinct from the others. During the scene, the interactions between the fairies made the dance playful and engaging. Some critics have remarked that this version of Sleeping Beauty lacks the impressive and challenging footwork found in the classical piece, but watching this scene, I didn’t feel that a single thing was missing. The dancers expertly move from floor to mid-air, using all the space around them, and there were plenty of crowd pleasing turns and jumps. The choreography does showcase the dancer’s skills but never at the expense of creating consistent characters, as can often be the case. Aurora, performed expertly by Ashley Shaw, had plenty of classical ballet steps but they were used in context and never dominated the performance or undermined Aurora’s personality.

balet3In Act 2 we were taken to the year 1911 and in contrast to Act 1 the sun is out and it is all very jolly. Aurora has grown up and fallen in love with Leo, the dashing young hero played by Dominic North. Watching them dance together is one of the most romantic things I have ever seen on stage. The time the two characters spend together makes it a love story that you invest in and root for. When the plot twist hit, I was heartbroken for them! I knew that at some point Aurora would fall asleep and it would be a bit sad, but I was unprepared for the chilling presence of Adam Maskell as Caradoc. Gate crashing the garden party, Caradoc sits and drinks tea in an evil way (yes, that is possible) while glaring at the tennis playing dancers. His presence creates an undercurrent of suspense that you hold onto right until the curtain closing for the interval. Aurora falls into a death like sleep and we are left not knowing if Leo has survived what appears to be a vampire attack by the Count Lilac (performed by Liam Mower). I spent the first half of the show dazzled by Count Lilac and the interval feeling betrayed- which side is he on?!

The third act opens onto the year 2011, complete with selfie taking teenagers. Again, the Balletset is remarkable. The heavy gates to the palace are covered in a tangle of vines and roses. We are greeted with good news, Leo is alive, although he does seem a little like a vampire fairy himself now (spoiler – turns out Count Lilac was on the side of good after all). This is great news because now Leo can save Aurora from her slumber.

I really don’t want to ruin how this unfolds but it is a gripping second half with so many captivating scenes and beautiful dancing from all of the cast. Highlights in Act 4 including a hypnotic sleepwalk dance and a dramatic paso doble styled scene in which Caradoc gets even creepier than in Act 2 (this time without the tea).

I was lucky enough to see the Q&A with Mathew Bourne after the show which was absolutely fascinating. Learning about his creative process and how he works was really interesting. We also did learnt, and I feel that I should warn you, this show may not be back in London for another 5 years! There are still tickets available for the rest of this week so you should probably go and get them right now.

Look out for New Adventures’ announcement of their next big project which will happen on 5th April. Can’t wait!

@MattBourne1 @maskell_adam @ChrisTrenfield @dommynorth @ashleyshaw_1 @New_Adventures

Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

Set and Costume Designer Lez Brotherston

Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Running until Saturday 26th March 2016 including a Saturday matinee.

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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