Sunday, January 03, 2016

SLEEPING BEAUTY at Sadler's Wells - arise Sir Matthew!

The last show before Christmas was a traditional delight - a visit to Sadler's Wells to see the Xmas Matthew Bourne production and this year it was a revival of his Gothic retelling of Tchaikovsky's SLEEPING BEAUTY.

I first saw his version in 2013 but it was in the fraught, ugly surroundings of the Wimbledon Theatre with a clueless audience and even worse front-of-house management so my enjoyment was curtailed by such circumstances.  But here we are, in the familiar surroundings of row K in the Sadler's Wells stalls so let the show commence...

Bourne's take on the classic ballet is to keep it in 1890, the year of the musical's premiere.  A King and Queen have asked the dark fairy Carabosse to help them have a child - the ins and outs are not explained! - but when a daughter is born and Carabosse is kept away from the christening, she appears and casts a spell for the girl to die on her 21st birthday.  Luckily Count Lilac and his rag-tag retinue of fairies are on hand to amend it so Aurora will only sleep til woken by a kiss 100 year later.

This opening scene wins one over straight away with the appearance of a puppet baby princess who scampers around the stage much to the courtier's frustration. Flash forward to 1911 and Aurora's 21st birthday party which takes place on the palace lawn in full Edwardian dress.

She loves Leo the gamekeeper and they dance a marvellous pas de deux but a handsome, tall stranger appears to give her a rose with tainted thorns.  When Aurora succumbs to the thorns, the stranger is revealed to be Carabosse's equally nasty son Caradoc. 

But how does Bourne get around the plot flaw that if Aurora has to sleep for 100 years, what then of Leo?  But here he puts his own radical spin on the tale by having the First Act end with Count Lilac biting Leo's neck turning him into an ageless vampire - result!  Lilac swooping on Leo's neck got a big "Ooooo" from the audience and it's an excellent close to the act as the music quietly pulses away as Leo twitches in spasms.

The second act starts in 2011 as Leo enters the palace's magical moonlit gardens to awaken Aurora but he is foiled by Caradoc who awakens Aurora instead to become his prisoner bride.  Count Lilac comes to Leo's aid again to rescue Aurora from being wedded to Caradoc in the ominous black and red nightclub which is the haunt of his evil retinue.

As before there was so much to enjoy - Lez Brotherston's wonderful set and costume designs conjure up both the real and other-worldly and Paule Constable's lighting design was wonderfully atmospheric.  As usual the company were excellent and Bourne's choreography always involving and entertaining.

But.. but.. but.. there is something about it that leaves me a little unsatisfied about it.  The relationship between Aurora and Leo was excellently danced by Ashley Shaw and the always-watchable Dominic Shaw but the relationship is so thinly drawn that it is difficult to be drawn emotionally into the characters.  It just all feels so perfunctory, maybe I should have a view of the dvd to be able to give myself over to it? 

Special mentions to Christopher Marney as Count Lilac and Tom Clark as Caradoc/Carabosse who are the only other characters to feature prominently however it was nice to see familiar Bourne names in the ensemble such as Chris Trenfield and Kate Lyons.

It was great to hear the news so soon after seeing SLEEPING BEAUTY that Matthew Bourne was to be knighted in the 2016 New Years Honours.  I have been a fan of his work since 1992 and he has consistently shown to be a master storyteller through his works as well as being a great ambassador for contemporary dance and for the outreach work that New Adventures has done in the past... well done Matthew!!

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