Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty opened with thunderous percussion, setting the scene for a performance of powerful choreography, combined with a potent narrative and a peppering of comedic elements. The ballet’s opening act was set in 1890, with the audience being taken on a journey from this period of lace parasols to that of grey Nike hoodies. Sleeping Beauty was a story popularised by Disney, but is now arguably one of the less popular princess stories within contemporary culture. Matthew Bourne has successfully woven different versions of the story together, modernising it, and captivating the audience throughout. It would be difficult to review this interpretation without discussing the decision to take the narrative into the present day. In an interview with Bourne found in the programme, he described how some versions did not include the “100 year sleep”. The interesting move into the 2000s in his interpretation utilised Aurora’s sleep to create a truly modern ballet; one which resonated with its audience on a new level, using selfies and neon strip lighting to do so.
Before the appearance of the harsh, modern neon lighting, the audience was treated to a beautifully decadent set. It showcased golden pillars either side of sumptuous and densely patterned black and gold curtains. This veiled a background that was revealed during the garden party scene. It was a simple, cloudy sky with a magnificent house on a hill. The latter was created as though it truly appeared far, far away, lighting up when darkness fell. The sky was a subtle work of art itself, slowly morphing from a deep pink to a moody blue. The garden party scene allowed for the performers to dance in pairs, showcasing their skills and refinement. There was a slight anachronism, however, in the props. Lace parasols bobbed above the heads of the ladies during this scene, but when rain was signified to be falling, a black, modern umbrella appeared. Although possibly intentional, it slightly ruined a moment where the expanse of white, 19th century-style props had placed the audience in the period.
This was swiftly forgotten as the ballet progressed. Comedy and terror were both employed to draw the audience in. Bill Hader look-alike, Adam Maskell, was formidable in his roles as Carabosse and Caradoc. At times he terrifyingly commanded the stage in a way that injected the Gothic atmosphere into a rather playful ballet. It soon became clear that one important component of this playfulness was the use of a puppet for baby Aurora. When it first appeared on stage, my immediate feeling was one of the puppet being rather eerie. Despite first impressions, it was swiftly used in a way that provided comic relief for the audience. The puppeteers were well hidden in black clothing, realistically depicting a curious baby that had Spiderman-like abilities for climbing curtains. This set the scene for a ballet that differed to others due to its impish nature. There was a great playfulness in the role of Leo played by Dominic North, who was talented in portraying the emotions of his character. In comparison to other ballets set to Tchaikovsky, there was a general lack of delicacy that was more prevalent in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker – ballets that have both been shown at the Hippodrome in recent years. This brash quality was utilised well by Carabosse’s Attendents, and other characters where darkness and ferocity was key. The audience, at times, collectively drew their breath in shock. In Act One, the dancers used to represent Aurora and Leo as adults wore nude, featureless face masks, which certainly shocked the audience, being a chilling way of revealing Aurora’s future.
Considering all of this, if you’re looking for a different evening out with your housemates, your bestie or your bae, why not try the ballet? From the music, to the atmosphere, to the skill and experience demonstrated by the dancers, it’s a greatly aesthetically pleasing experience. Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is only showing at the Hippodrome until 13th February; but have no fear, for soon, Romeo and Juliet will be here. Check it out anytime from 24th – 27th February – grab a pair of tickets for an unexpected, last minute Valentine’s present!