Choreographer Matthew Bourne simply has to be one of the most exciting people working in the performing arts today. His productions aren’t just high quality entertainment; they are utterly absorbing pieces that transport the audience to overwhelmingly beautiful fantasy lands. Sleeping Beauty, the show that marks 25 years of his company New Adventures and its third foray into Tchaikovsky after Nutcracker! and Swan Lake, maintains those high standards and brings many innovative touches to the fold.
The story of Aurora, the princess cursed to fall into 100 years of sleep, starts at the very beginning – with the arrival of a beautiful, playful and mischievous baby girl, courtesy of some skillful puppetry that charms the audience into submission straight away. She soon comes of age in an enchanting performance from Hannah Vasallo, and celebrates her birthday with a party and a secret liaison with not a prince, but teenage groundskeeper Leo (Dominic North). Together, Vasallo and North are so sweet and delightful it almost hurts; their pas de deux – almost like the ballet equivalent of the Sound of Music’s Sixteen Going On Seventeen – would have charmed the hardest heart.
Mysterious stranger Caradoc (Tom Jackson Greaves) brings an abrupt end to proceedings by tempting Aurora with a black rose, on which she pricks her finger to begin the curse. Is there any way Leo will still be around in 100 years to awake her with a kiss? It turns out there is, as our heroine has guardian angels on side whose bite ensures his immortality.
The ballet’s climax, therefore, brings us right to the present day, with urban explorers passing by the overgrown gates keeping Aurora locked away from the world. A mesmerising scene in the woods while she still sleeps is a testament to the grace and skill of this company; Caradoc’s ball, with its contemporary twists, brings lashings of gothic sexiness to the piece.
Lez Brotherston’s set design equals the grand designs of his Cinderella, and clever use of travelators on the stage add another dimension to the storytelling.
As usual, Matthew Bourne takes incredible liberties with a classic, but instills in it his vision, love and sense of fun. Sleeping Beauty is polished, it’s gorgeous, it’s imaginative and it is an utter delight. Not to be missed.