REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (New Wimbledon Theatre)

With a classical ballet, it’s all about the dancing. You admire the dancers’ movement, footwork and strength, with the music and story secondary. With a Matthew Bourne production however, you have no choice but to be immersed in everything.

Sleeping Beauty is a beloved fairytale that has been interpreted in countless ways, yet this production manages to tell the story in a new way, without losing the magic or charm of the romance. From surreal sleepwalking scenes to gothic vampire weddings, this production defies all expectations.

The ballet opens in 1890, with the birth of baby Aurora. Often glossed over or forgotten, the young princess is for once a crucial part of the story. The baby puppet is incredible, extraordinarily lifelike as she crawls around the palace getting into mischief, throwing tantrums and causing havoc. It’s some of the best puppetry I’ve experienced on stage.

When she is finally asleep, we witness the first true dancing from the fairies, as they bestow their gifts. Each fairy dances a solo, combining classical and modern movement, with costumes that are gothic, each unique in design.

Lez Brotherston is a remarkable man, responsible for both set and costume design. The set is dark and mysterious, then light and innocent, while the nature of the story (a kingdom falling asleep for 100 years) allows him to work with Victorian, Edwardian and modern day costumes, which provide a stark contrast between the four acts.

Just like Bourne, Brotherston’s attention to detail is sublime, with no two costumes alike and little nuances that are incredibly effective. Each fairy has a unique pair of wings which, according to Matthew Bourne denotes a different type of bird and there is symbolism in every aspect of the production.

There is not one weak performer in Matthew Bourne’s company, but Liam Mower (Count Lilac, King of the Fairies) is an exceptional dancer, showing his character’s personality through his posture, movement and facial expressions.

Ashley Shaw as Aurora is another standout performer, showing a different side to the famous princess. This young girl is feisty, stubborn and far less innocent than traditional productions paint her. Ashley Shaw performs beautifully throughout the piece, even when her eyesight is obscured by a mask or blindfold. Her chemistry with both Leo (Dominic North) and Caradoc (Adam Maskell) is genuine and her acting is heartfelt.

Sleeping Beauty is a mesmerising production, that succeeds to envelop the audience in its surreal gothic romance, through the unique choreography of Matthew Bourne and the pure delight that is Tchaikovsky’s music. Each man exceptionally talented in his own right, their combined genius is, once again, sensational.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 26 March 2016