Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Theatre Royal, Plymouth
Review by Lee Trewhela
I'VE said it before and I'll say it again – if you think you don't like dance, then head to a Matthew Bourne show and do a little pirouette with your preconceptions.
Not at all poncy (though often as camp as Christmas – two very different if effete things) or pretentious, the UK's leading choreographer is more interested in entertaining the masses than impressing ballet grandees.
As part of his company New Adventures' 25th anniversary we have already laughed and had our nipples tweaked by the thrilling Early Years at the Hall for Cornwall and now the Theatre Royal premieres Sleeping Beauty.
The third in his Tchaikovsky reinterpretations after the ever-popular Nutcracker! in 1992 and all-male Swan Lake in 1995, it's a gothic retelling of the fairytale. Would you expect otherwise from the man who turned Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands into a dance show?
So you have effective and affecting puppet babies, vampires as well as fairies and evil Carabosse's son Caradoc to ensure the darkness continues throughout – something missing from Petipa's original 1890 ballet.
Although Bourne and his team excel in the choreography stakes – from the more traditional ballet of the Victorian era at the show's start to the crazed, ritual of our modern times 100 years down the line – it is designer Lez Brotherston who is the real star here.
His sets are as sumptuous as we have come to expect from previous work with the company – a palace on a hill overlooking the garden setting for Princess Aurora's coming of age party is awe-inspiring, as is the final scarlet-soaked wedding party, reminiscent of the decadent orgy scene in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.
Brotherston's costume designs follow the story's arc, buttoned-up and Victorian, stylish and Edwardian, and revealing and swaggering today. The fact the clothes have to be danced in is even more impressive.
The ensemble of dancers are superb to a man and woman, with special mention going to Christopher Marney as Count Lilac, King of the Fairies – all lightness of touch, magical but with a veiled sense of danger.
And flying the flag for Cornwall is an unrecognisable Tom Jackson Greaves – a former student of Truro-based performing arts teacher Jason Thomas – as brooding villain, the fittingly Celtic-named Caradoc.
The only negative in this wonderful "Gothic romance" is Tchaikovsky's dull score. Lacking dynamism, it's not one of Pyotr's greatest hits. Thankfully, Bourne's extraordinary storytelling prowess rises above the music.