It’s a tale we all know well, it’s been told a number of times and in many different ways. Though none can compare to Matthew Bournes.
This the first time I’ve seen any of Matthew’s work, though he is not unfamiliar to me, his versions of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker! precedes this tour. Nor is this the first time that his work has been to Bristol, in fact his work is frequently brought to this magical theatre when on tour. Yet, I’ve had so many missed opportunities. For one who has been a part of media and had opportunities to see his shows on many, previous occasions, to date, I have not. Now though, that I have been introduced to the dark and fantastical side of his directive (he is known for rather dark portrayals of stories), I have the taste, I want more, it’s like a drug. I want to explore more of his productions, his take on music, stories and his visions that created such a wonderful portrayal of a story I love. This alone is pure testament to how enthralling this truly was.
Every detail has been well thought out. This was researched well, as would be expected, as it’s been done before and incompasses a well developed story and theme that goes beyond the simple ‘true love conquers all’ ideal. So how could this be any different to what you’ve seen before? The tale was opened to narrative akin to cinematics, think silent movies of the early 1900’s, which I found to be completely endearing and of course with dance productions, overall, there is no narrative. Although, arguably, this aspect wasn’t essential, as we’re all pretty familiar with Sleeping Beauty, it is the reverence for the ‘once upon a time…’ fairytale that this aspect is made for. Moreover, it opens up the dialogue for the concepts introduced in this particular version. Once the curtain is drawn, you’re presented with the most elegant set design and costume I’ve ever seen- an astounding feat considering the time periods that were covered and the themes that were explored. It is by far the most magical, beautiful and alluring set I’ve seen to date.
I find that you’ll usually either have a taste for ballet or you don’t. But that’s where, I believe, Matthew Bourne’s adaptations differ and instead this version of Sleeping Beauty offers something for all. This was so considered. He incorporates different genres of dance, design, humour and acting through the different acts representing different periods (as the story is set over a period of 120 years). The story has been developed by Matthew and team, to incorporate the idea of a blossomed romance and not the love at first site concept usually followed. This is an idea rarely explored in love stories, particularly ones that date back so far, and even then, it’s only just becoming apparent in recent times in modern films. This romantic take makes it more relatable, believable and encourages you, as the audience, to want the two to ‘live happily ever after’ because we get to know them as two individuals as well as a couple. What’s more, he explores the fun, playful and tense aspects of the relationship adding further depth to this love story.
In addition, the age-old go0d vs. evil is a constant in this adaptation to sew a dramatic thread throughout. The relationship between Aurora (Ashley Shaw) and her captor, Caradoc, is also very interesting. Aurora’s character is prevalent from the start, she’s not a typical princess, particularly for the time, through her development from toddler to becoming a woman/’coming of age’ we see the childlike and mischievous playfulness, the believer and her naivety. When Caradoc (Adam Maskell), mysterious, dark, handsome and seductive first appears at her party, the dynamic between the two is quite powerful- Caradoc attempting to fulfil his mother’s desires with a strong, steely determination about him and Aurora, torn between fulfilment of duty and her inquisitiveness of a man she is presented with. The development of this relationship which later is akin to a reverse of stockholm syndrome, comes to a dramatic close in act 3 so true love can prevail.
Although there are obvious lead roles in the form of Aurora (Ashley Shaw), Leo- her true love (Chris Trenfield), Count Lilac (Christopher Marney) and Caradoc (Adam Maskell)- who were all equally enchanting, it is the cast as a collective who work synonymously together to bring us this phenomenal version Sleeping Beauty. I cannot praise this highly enough.
Photo credits: Johan Persson