REVIEW – Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Birmingham Hippodrome is most accessible ballet with plenty to enjoy

CHOREOGRAPHER Matthew Bourne’s talent is the ability to take a traditional ballet narrative and turn it on its head – and his gothic version of classical ballet favourite ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is no exception.

Cue vampire fairies, a minx of a princess, a sexy gamekeeper (a la Lady Chatterly’s Lover) and a scary ‘bad fairy’ with growling hench men.

From curtain up, Bourne’s long-time collaborator Lez Brotherston carries the gothic theme through with imaginative, playful and sumptuous sets that perfectly echo Bourne’s vision for this interpretation.

The ballet starts in a traditional way, with the birth of a much longed for baby to the King and Queen.

Princess Aurora is introduced as a larger-than-life puppet baby, so brilliantly and humorously manipulated by the puppeteer (for whom I could find no credit listed) that the audience erupt into a chorus of ‘ahs’.

It’s clear from the start that this is no pious princess as we see first the baby and then fiesty teenage Aurora (danced with a delightful mix of innocence and sass by Ashley Shaw) leading the palace servants a merry dance.

At night, the princess is watched over by a band of vampiric, steam-punk fairies, lead by Count Lilac (a passionate Paris Fiztpatrick) who protect her from the designs of evil fairy Carabosse in a chilling portrayal by Ben Brown.

In this sequence, Bourne cleverly uses a travelator (like you get in airports) so the fairies appear to glide magically.

At Aurora’s 15th birthday party, we see her flirting with the young gamekeeper Leo (charismatic Andrew Monaghan) in a pas de deux that’s full of youthful lust and promise, the start of a romance that becomes a driver for the narrative.

Carabosse’s son Caradoc continues her legacy – it’s payback time as he first leads Aurora in a seductive dance and then gives her a glass rose on which she pricks her finger, poisoning her.

As with the traditional story, the good fairy Count Lilac intervenes and puts a spell on Aurora so she will sleep for 100 years until woken by a kiss.

But Bourne is never going to let his heroine simply awaken when kissed by some random stranger – prince or not – so here’s a classic Bourne twist – our gamekeeper Leo can live for 100 years and wake his love, but only if he also become a vampire fairy!

Act two brings us 100 years forward, to 2012 (this is a 10th anniversary revival production) and young Leo has sprouted his vampire fairy wings as he battles his way through the forest to find his girl.

But the evil Caradoc has also fallen in love with the sleeping princess, dancing seductively with her in her dreams as if she was a doll.

At the very moment Leo finds the princess and kisses her, Caradoc seizes her for himself –  his dream of having the ‘real’ Aurora now fulfilled.

In the traditional ballet, a large chunk of act two is taken up with a ball with increasingly showy dances, celebrating the return of the princess – here though we are transported to a night club filled with cavorting dancers lead by Caradoc with Aurora.

The red and black costumes and set suggest a darkness and underlying seediness that is played out as we see Caradoc pass Aurora around his men friends. But of course all fairy stories must have a happy ending – and Leo, with the help of Count Lilac, eventually prevails, leaving us with a joyful ending.

There’s no grande jettes, showy pirouettes or corps-de-ballet (the company number’s just 18) in this version, but instead Bourne gives us an earthy, visually enchanting story that returns to the fundementals of a fairytale.

For those who haven’t seen a Matthew Bourne production, this is probably his most accessible ballet, beautifully choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful and familiar score.

Unlike some of Bournes other productions, there’s nothing too outrageous in the choreography which to me is a slight disappointment, but it’s a delightful and heart-warming watch.

Sleeping Beauty runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday, February 11. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Johannah Dyer

Euan Rose Reviews

JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn

Here’s my thoughts on The Crescent’s first show. Of their new season

JESSICA Swale’s Nell Gwynn is a gem of a show to kick off the new Crescent Theatre season with and my word they do her justice.

Sumptuous cossies, a set to transport you to ‘The famous Globe’ of old London town and music from Christopher Arnold to grace any royal parlour – and that’s before we get on to talking about the acting.

At approaching three hours long, dear Nell could have been an endurance test, even for the theatre faithful. But there is so much crammed in here to relish that you’re left rather begging for more not screaming for mercy.

The play is set after the death of Oliver Cromwell where 30 year old King Charles II comes has returned from exile in France to grace the throne once more.

The story is not just about lovely orange-selling, part time hooker Nell, but concerns theatre and theatrical folk. It’s the game-changing time when women were first allowed to grace the stage as actors –Heaven forbid this step should cascade them into being allowed to vote and workplace equality!

No this is the time when women ruled with the power of sex and cunning whilst men just thought they ruled and enjoyed the sex.

We meet a company of actors struggling to put on performances in the Kings’ own theatre – artistry must be tempered with political correctness but whatever happens – the show must go on!

Laura Poyner is our hardworking Nell – she rarely leaves the stage as she acts, sings, and cavorts her way into our hearts. In a dress as bright as the oranges in her basket she is simply joyous with a performance that sucks you in and keeps you there until her final epilogue.

Alice Macklin puts in fine support as Nell’s sister Rose, Pat Dixon is as delightful as she is funny as Nancy, Jaz Davison gives up a delicious double as Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine (if any of you have seen the series ‘Get Shorty’ then think the Mexican Cartel boss lady) and sad Old Ma Gwynn, Nell’s brothel keeping mater.

Joanne Brookes completes the main cast female line in another splendid double as we get two mistresses for the price of one – the hissing court bitch Lady Castlemaine and the clever French beauty Louise de Keroualle.

There is not a weak link in this cast – on to the males -Tom Fitzpatrick smiles majestically just like the picture that adorns so many pub walls as King Charles II’ all that’s missing is the spaniel on his lap – a perfect piece of casting,

Sam Wilson is gloriously outrageous as Edward Kynaston, the member of the company who got to don the frock and the face slap before Nelly takes over, Graeme Braidwood is a suitable harassed writer John Drydon, Alan Bull brings the right amount of bluster to Lord Arlington and Luke Plimmer as Ned Spiggett and Christopher Arnold as Henry Purcell also put in solid performances as actors playing actors.

Two special shout-outs firstly for Mark Payne as the lead actor of the King’s theatre troupe Charles Hart – he manages to demonstrate the whole range of acting skills when teaching Nell how to act  – whilst masking it in another layer of what Hart is really thinking –no mean feat for an actor playing an actor showing another actor how to act – if you follow my drift?

Secondly to a truly extraordinary outing for Andrew Cowie as Thomas Killgrew the company director. He is so funny, so believable and so intense – I can’t find sufficient superlatives. – ‘cept perhaps to say Bill Nighy (whom Cowie really resembles) couldn’t have done it better.

Sometimes there is nothing as real as pretense – Killgrew’s uproarious rehearsal room scenes are spot on and timeless. Within those walls plans are hatched, hearts joined and broken; dreams made and shattered – Viva la suspension of disbelief.

Of course all this would never have come to pass if there wasn’t a real director with a vision – Dewi Johnson take a well-earned bow. It didn’t escape my notice that the actors never stopped acting and muttering even when moving the scenery. The company did you proud and you welded them into one hell of a team.

Standards for the season have been set!

Nell Gwyn runs at The Crescent until Saturday.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose.