It was good to revisit Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, particularly since New Adventures is celebrating the 10th anniversary of this production, presenting a fresh-faced, new cast.
The first thing that always strikes me about any of Bourne's productions is how instantly transporting they are, from the minute the lights go down. Lez Brotherston's set and costume designs are a gift to any choreographer, with his attention to detail, imagination, and sheer splendour – the fairy tale comes alive before a step is danced.
Described as a gothic romance, the story begins in 1890, the year Petipa's famous ballet was first performed, and takes us right up to the present day. Bourne has, as always, brought us more identifiable characters and gives realistic explanations as to why we can believe in them. The baby Aurora has been left at the Royal Palace in a basket, so not necessarily of noble birth. Thus she is portrayed (superbly by Ashley Shaw) as a young girl who doesn't want to conform, kicks her boots off at any given moment and loves the outdoors. No wonder she falls for Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper (a dashing Andrew Monaghan) and so this is not an implausible ‘love at first sight' romance but one that has substance and longevity.
In spite of differences in the plot, there are plenty of obvious reference points that do not stray very far from the original story. In this, Carabosse is outlived by her son, Caradoc, (Jackson Fisch in both roles); the fairies are loosely based on their classical counterparts but err on the side of feisty rather than gracious. Count Lilac (Paris Fitzpatrick), vampiric as well as being the ‘good' fairy, is blessed with having a role that develops at a pace, with his blood-sucking skills allowing Leo to survive the 100 years of slumber.
For someone extremely familiar with Tchaikovsky's rich score, Bourne's reinvention of what goes where and who dances to it, is a bit of a revelation and, for me, exposes how much we can be creatures of habit. Whichever way you look at or listen to it, this is music that can be interpreted in multiple ways and Bourne has made it work. The reduction in length also enhances what unfolds as the action plays out in four scenes in two acts, rather than four lengthy acts.
What makes Bourne's Beauty so inclusive is the balance between drama and humour along with his company of brilliant dance actors. The arrival of a lifelike baby puppet is hugely entertaining and nearly steals the show. Best moments choreographically are the duets between Aurora and Leo, the final pas de deux reflecting the enormity of their reciprocal passion in a way that often doesn't come across in the classical version. This is shared ecstasy, danced with a sense of abandon and relief. Shaw and Monaghan are excellent dancers but more than that, they are convincing, we become attached to their characters, what befalls them and how viscerally they connect with one another.
Fisch, in the dual role of Carabosse, the Dark Fairy and equally dark son, does not drop his evil guise for a moment. Strong dancing and unwavering menace, a winning combination. However, it is Fitzpatrick who makes an indelible impression, and not for the first time – who can forget his heartbreaking Romeo or his Bob in The Midnight Bell? He has an inexplicable ability to transform himself and inhabit a role as if he entered the world as that character. Christopher Marney's original Count Lilac will never be forgotten but Fitzpatrick certainly makes his mark.
The entire company dance with great sincerity – each cast member has their own perfectly credible backstory. But, as ever, it is Bourne's own theatricality and his need to give weight and honesty to each moment which is so satisfying. And if some of the ensemble dances are less inventive and reminiscent of his previous works, who cares when they tell the story musically and are part of a magnificent whole. I'm not going to spoil the ending by revealing its climax, but it does have the ‘wow' factor and sends you home in a joyous mood. Definitely worth watching.