“Why would you want to go and see a ballet?” a friend asked me after I had told them my evening plans. “It’s just people jumping about doing some twisty turns and tumbles to classical music”. My reply was that it’s something a bit different, I’ve never been before and how would I know if I’d like it until I’d been. Besides, my partner had always wanted to go, so it seemed like a win-win situation.
Being my first time at the ballet, it helped that I already knew the story. Most people over the age of 2 know the basic tale of Sleeping Beauty, whether it’s from the Disney film, the Brothers Grimm fairy tale or the original ballet adaptation by Petipa/ Tchaikovsk, although one of the earliest known versions dates back to the 1300’s called Perceforest; a harrowing, heartbreaking tale where Sleeping Beauty is known as Zellandine. There have been many adaptations in the 800 or so years since and now the UK’s most popular choreographer/director, Sir Matthew Bourne, has firmly put his stamp on the story. It still follows the most popular known version where Princess Aurora pricks her finger and sleeps for 100 years – although there are plenty of plot/character changes.
Matthew Bourne’s radical adaptation of the classic ballet has arrived in Southampton and the gothic romance can only be described as a stunning masterpiece and for a ballet-beginner like myself, this really was the perfect introduction. The opening 5 minutes was tricky, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening and I was slightly worried the whole show would be just twisty turns and people leaping about as my friend had previously suggested. I needn’t have worried – as soon as the stunning choreography kicked in, it really was a delight to watch – even though at times I struggled to follow the plot.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is marketed as a gothic tale for all ages; the traditional tale of good vs. evil and rebirth is turned upside-down, creating a supernatural love story that even the passage of time itself cannot hinder.
Bourne’s new scenario introduced several characters not seen in Petipa’s famous Ballet or Grimm’s fairy tale. This imaginary kingdom is ruled over by King Benedict and Queen Eleanor. Instead of a regal, handsome prince, Princess Aurora’s romantic interest is the royal gamekeeper, Leo. Representing the central forces of good and evil are Count Lilac (“the King of the Fairies”) and the Dark Fairy Carabosse. Bourne has also created the character of Caradoc, the sinister but charming son of Carabosse. Princess Aurora’s Fairy Godparents are characterised by their names – Ardor, Hibernia, Autumnus, Feral and Tantrum.
The central role of Aurora is played by rising star Ashley Shaw and she is the star of the show as the naught, mischievous, resplendent wild-child. Earlier, the puppet version of Aurora was clearly loved by much of the audience – although it reminded me of the baby in Trainspotting and I was relieved when Aurora came of age.
There are many twists and turns throughout the show – and not just the theatrical dance types. The plot, whilst following the best known version of Sleeping Beauty, has a modern contemporary twist and and for myself it was not until Matthew Bourne explained in a special Q+A after the show where it all made sense. Bourne also admitted the gothic romance theme takes huge inspiration from True Blood and Interview with the Vampire. There was one sinister scene that bore resemblance to the very first version of the story too – however, unless you know the Perceforest version it may not be obvious.
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty was the perfect show whet my appetite for more and Bourne himself said his next production will return to Southampton next year – although he wouldn’t say what it is, he did tell the audience that it will be based on a film and that we should know within three weeks. I’m already excited to find out what it will be.
The show runs until Saturday (19th March 2016). Tickets and more information can be found on the Mayflower website.