Bristol Theatre News

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty – Review Bristol Hippodrome



SLEEPING BEAUTY by Bourne, , Director and Choreographer - Matthew Bourne, Designer - Lez Brotherston, Lighting - Paule Constable, New Adventures, Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/


Our Verdict: This is a delightful dark fairy tale, indulging gothic fantasy whilst maintaining dramatic tension through perfectly executed ballet.

Our Rating: 10/10

It’s billed as a Gothic Romance and there’s certainly plenty of that within the dark heart of Matthew Bourne’s fairy tale ballet Sleeping Beauty.

From the off the scene is set with cinematic typography and the imposing and sinister Adam Maskell as dark fairy Carabosse and then in turn her son Caradoc.

Clearly King Benedict and Queen Eleanor have turned to the dark side somewhat in attempt to have a child. Neglecting to properly thank Carabosse is a school boy error. It brings about the eventual downfall of the family as the story twists and turns from 1890 through to 2011.

As per tradition, we have the magical fairies bestowing their gifts through individual dances. Their entrance is enhanced by the clever use of a moving stage floor. Their good magic is overseen by the exceptional Christopher Marney as vampiric Count Lilac, King of the Fairies. He is an incredibly fluid yet precise dancer.

From the dainty and comedic baby puppets grows Ashley Shaw’s Princess Aurora who is a spirited creature. Ashley is a mesmerising and beautiful dancer. Rejecting her stuffy upbringing, she prefers to dance freely around the gardens barefoot and falls in love with the Royal Gamekeeper Leo.

All this does mean a tough gig for the recipient of her affection, Leo, danced by Chris Trenfield with innocent boyish charm. Leo ends up being made immortal to stay awake for 100 years and save Aurora from the vampires in the future.

If this all sounds way more complicated than it should be, then bear in mind that one of the great things about a New Adventures production is that their ballets are very accessible without being dumbed down and maintain a strong storyline and tension to the very end. It appeases the purists as well as the newbies attracted by the content

Act 1 starts much like a classical ballet, until the choreography breaks out into typical Bournisms. His work is much like a highly creative child with ADHD stuck in a classroom all day. All of a sudden, as demonstrated brilliantly by Liam Mower as Tantrum the Fairy of Temperament, tradition and expectation is out the window with a sudden burst of unique quirky brilliance.

One of the great things about this interpretation is that we get so much more from the characters than other versions from stage or screen. Everyone on stage has a vital part to play, even a footman simply polishing the gramophone horn in an amusing way at the back of the stage.

The creative force of Lez Brotherston’s glorious and authentic costumes and scene setting lighting is also one of the reasons this production is a winner. There’s lots in Sleeping Beauty we have seen him do in Bourne ballet before. The Highland Fling wings, the Swan Lake legs, the historic attention to detail whilst being danceable.

Bourne can’t resist a good old second half dramatic ballroom scene and this one keeps us on the edge our seats until its Don Giovanni style ending.

In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that Tchaikovsky’s music is pre-recorded and we don’t have a live orchestra. That doesn’t affect the performance at all. But, it can mean that at key points the music can’t reach deeply within the audience and is a slight connection lost. But this is easily offset by the fact that a touring orchestra would push up costs and a ballet is better with pre-recorded music than no ballet at all.

But ultimately, this is a delightfully dark fairy tale, indulging gothic fantasy whilst maintaining dramatic tension through perfectly executed ballet.