Sleeping Beauty. Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Nottingham Theatre Royal.
The anticipation and the actual reviewing of one of Matthew Bourne’s ballets is almost a five star event in itself as it seems impossible to give any of the New Adventures’ ballets anything other than top five stars such is the incredible continuous creativity, dedication and brilliantly astonishing dance talent that each one, from Romeo + Juliet, Swan Lake, Nutcracker or the fairly recent 1940s atmospheric The Midnight Bell offers its audiences. If anything, in the modern dance world, a New Adventures show is something very special to look forward to. I have a strong feeling that five stars are, once more, going to grace the starry firmament of this revived 10th Anniversary Sleeping Beauty ballet review.
Now in its tenth anniversary and on an ambitious UK tour including our very own Nottingham Theatre Royal we sit in our seats two minutes to the opening with the beautiful sound of birdsong mingling with the chat of excited punters. I have to say that I am more than thrilled to be lucky enough to see Sleeping Beauty for my very first time. My reviewer’s pen is on the verge of shaking and my lined pad is now aching for my thoughts to be transcribed. Bring on the dance: bring on the majesty of the Tchaikovsky score. I am ready and waiting.
Sleeping Beauty is comical in parts and the whole is delivered with the high calibre dance performance, and acting, to be expected from this company. At times we witness dancers on two travelators holding ballet poses whilst in motion making the dancers glide effortlessly across the back of the stage adding to that dreamy feel of a fairy world. The costumes follow the move through the ages that this modern rendition favours. Whilst musically there is a mix of Tchaikovsky and some modern tempo, still in the classical style, to add extra drama to the movement. Both the music and costumery help the audience track the timeframe of the storytelling, along with the gothic style set designs. In fact, the whole piece has a gothic edge visually enhanced by makeup and hair. The costumes are alive with layers of fabric and deliberate colour pallets matching the lighting to recreate the old ‘good’, like a bright Blue Danube ‘vs evil’, a Dante’s Inferno red for the evil queen Carabosse and her son. So clever is the diverse casting that only I only found out, at the very end, that in this particular performance just one dancer (Jackson Fisch) plays both mother and son! I genuinely didn’t realise it was the same person, even if with the benefit of retrospect, they were now both recognisable as one!
All the Matthew Bourne New Adventures dancers put in so much energy and characterisations to all the various parts they portray that one is left to wonder if they can pull off this level of performance off time and time again. I hope so! For a dance cast to create such incredible storytelling through dance and brilliant choreography, they need to be great actors to bring it all to such impressive technicolour life and bring to life something that must be even trickier when acted and danced to a soundtrack. And yet tonight everyone still produces such a high calibre performance! It’s very impressive.
There are a few moments of genuine surprise when we encounter the baby Aurora, who is craftily puppeteered by three dancers who appeared to not appear at all; all working in unison, mimicking realistic child-like movements. I love the moment when the little princess gets up to mischief, spidermanning up the curtains and, when safely collected, starts hitting the butler on the head in a child-like tantrum. These silly antics bring an appreciative roar of laughter from the audience.
Tonight’s key performers are Ashley Shaw (Princess Aurora), Andrew Monaghan (Leo, the Royal Gamekeeper), Jackson Fisch (Carrabose and her son Caradoc), Dominic North (Count Lilac), Kayla Collymore (Queen Eleanor), Danny Reubens (King Benedict), Bryony Wood (Fairy Ardor), Hannah Kremer (Fairy Hibernia), Shoko Ito (Fairy Feral), James Lovell (Fairy Autumus), Stephen Murray (Fairy Tantrum), Cameron Flynn (Lord Rupert), Perreira de Jesus Franque (Viscount Aubrey). Typical of Matthew Bourne’s generosity of creative spirit many dancers are making their Sleeping Beauty debuts on the Theatre royal stage tonight, all working together in seamless harmony.
Memorably portrayed is Princess Aurora who is danced by Ashley Shaw. Shaw delivers all the teenage excitement, flirtations, playfulness and tease for a 21-year-old youth while Andrew Monaghan provides the country rustics of a young cheeky chap; both characters are wonderfully combined together in acting and dance. Dominic North as Count Lilac, King of the Fairies, makes me feel as though he had secret springs below his ballet shoes.. and then weights for other moments with other dancers, plus holding an arabesque on the travelators.
The draped curtains on the set give Sleeping Beauty its old-day feel mixing traditional with modern and so many layers of staging using mesh screens and background sets at varying distances. To the audience it feels like the set has an abundance of space, visually exciting to watch, and real time disappears in this well lit, full moon influenced backdrop to the story.
It is incredible to think that this production we are witnessing in little old Nottingham UK tonight has already played many international stages including major USA stages in New York, Charlotte, Washington, Des Moines, Cleveland and LA. Furthermore, the original tour has been enjoyed in Seoul in South Korea, Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing in China and Tokyo in Japan. We Nottingham folk should consider ourselves very privileged. Very recently Sleeping Beauty enjoyed a seven-week Christmas season at Sadler’s Wells in London during 29th November to 15th January. Then it danced and skipped to Milton Keynes Theatre for a week and resides now, enchanting the audiences at Nottingham Theatre Royal.
The score by Tchaikovsky is both thrilling, touching and totally unforgettable. Bourne’s darkly gothic ballet version of Sleeping Beauty includes his regular artist contributors and New Adventures Associate Artists namely: Lez Brotherston (set and costumes), Paule Constable (lighting design) and Paul Groothuis (sound design.
In conclusion, Sleeping Beauty has not failed to deliver laughter, some surprises, mostly inspiring beauty and an edgy gothic fairy tale made with a refreshing modern twist on an old and well-travelled story and a fab experience for those who love the ballet. But, unlike most ballets it delivers so much more as a well-rounded dance and theatrical performance!
I can’t see how anyone would be disappointed to spend their evenings watching this version of Sleeping Beauty and I hear there are not many tickets left. Grab a seat or two, you won’t be sorry.
Sleeping Beauty runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 28th January 2023