Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at The Liverpool Empire

Posted on 18 February 2016
By Jeanette Smith
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Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, at the Empire until Saturday, is a sumptuous and surprising production that has you totally immersed in its telling.Bourne’s dance theatre, he declines to call it ballet, has been wowing theatre-goers all over the world, and his knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List is testament to his genius.

This is the third Tchaikovsky work his New Adventures Company has undertaken, following on from Nutcracker! and his all-male Swan Lake.
This Once Upon a Time story loosely follows Perrault’s fairy tale story but has modern-day gothic twists. It is essentially a story of good v evil. Princess Aurora (Ashley Straw) falls for the Royal Gamekeeper, Leo (Chris Trenfield) and not a prince, and it is he who finally rescues her from the clutches of murderous Caradoc (the brutish Tom Clark) son of evil fairy Carabosse, also danced by Clark.
Count Lilac, King of the Fairies (superbly danced by Christopher Marney) is the force of good that changes Carabosse’s curse from death to a sleep of 100 years and aids Leo in his quest to find and re-awaken his love.

This dazzling production begins in 1890 and we see little baby Aurora crawling around the nursery and getting up to all sorts of mischief. It is the deftness of the puppeteers that makes the baby seem almost real, and emits much hilarity. As King Benedict (Glen Graham) and Queen Eleanor (Daisy May Kemp) are unable to have children, Carabosse, the dark fairy, brings one to them. However, as she was not thanked properly she plots her evil revenge.

Tom Clark is a superb Carabosse, dressed in black and red period dress, and as the arrogant and charming but deadly son Caradoc, he emanates evil with just a turn of his head. His pas de deux with Aurora are sexually charged and menacing.

We then see Aurora coming of age, and in a lavish tennis party garden scene suitors come to claim her hand with Leo lurking in the background. The Edwardian costumes and splendid dancing of the company is a delight. Straw and Trenfield are magical as the two lovers, their dancing sensual and tender.
Then Caradoc emerges and presents Aurora with a black rose – contrasting with the red rose given to her by her lover. She pricks her finger and the ‘death’ scene danced by the delicate Ashley Straw is beautifully wrought.

Her awaking in a modern-day world of bobble hats and cell phones is totally dramatic with the tussle between good and evil, followed by a masked-ball wedding scene that gets even darker and more dramatic with evil seeping out of every pore.

Bourne’s direction and inventiveness always amazes, and his quirky choreography to Tchaikovsky’s music is magnificent. Added to Lez Brotherston’s set and costume design (for which he was rightly nominated for an Olivier Award) we have a production that Matthew Bourne himself says is one of his company’s finest achievements and the piece for which he is personally the most proud. Many standing ovations last night proved the audience agree!

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
Liverpool Empire Theatre
February 15 – February 20
Purple Revolver Rating: ****