REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Theatre Royal Newcastle, until April 16

Sleeping Beauty. Credit: Johan Persson
Sleeping Beauty. Credit: Johan Persson
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Escapism doesn’t come more brilliantly fantastical than in a Matthew Bourne production.

The dance supremo is back in Newcastle with a reimagining of Tchaikovsky ballet Sleeping Beauty, a classic fairytale realised in glorious gothic form.

It takes the audience to the deliciously dark world of 1890 - a time of the original ballet - when imps, fairies and vampires were a common story trope.

They prance and slink across the stage to visit the baby Aurora, played by a highly-realistic puppet. Much like War Horse and Goodnight Mister Tom, this piece uses modern day puppetry to great effect and the puppeteers manage to imbue the infant character with her own cheeky charm as she rocks to the beat of the fairies’ dance and clambers up curtains - though clever staging means you only ever catch a fleeting glimpse of the black-clad puppet masters.

Much like the puppet, Aurora is a captivating soul. So much so, that the fairies come to dance around her crib in playful fashion to enchant her - and us.

But the striking full moon backdrop of this act one scene soon depicts the shadow of the dark fairy Carabosse and her feral familiars. Never one to stick to gender stereotypes, Bourne’s evil fairy is played by a man, in this case the spectacularly brooding Adam Maskell.

You could almost feel the chill in the air of the Theatre Royal as she sweeps onto the stage to curse our heroine. She fails. And all is right with the world again. That is until Aurora’s coming of age.

Fast forward to 1911 and the delightful puppet has been replaced by Cordelia Braithwaite, a playful princess with an ebullient stage presence. She’s a rebellious royal who refuses to wear the stiff formal boots her mother wants her to wear. As such, she performs barefoot for most of the show. For the audience it means you can enjoy the exact precision of her footwork, the elegant arch of her feet, as she brings Bourne’s vivid imagination to life.

With Carabosse now dead, it’s left to her son Caradoc, also played by Maskell, to carry out her evil curse.

Amidst the elegant Edwardian lawn party backdrop, he appears as a Vampire-esque figure, both alluring and unnerving. Though this production is more balletic and romantic than other Bourne outings - making it more suitable for children than the likes of the excellent, yet sexually-charged The Car Man - Caradoc brings some of the bold lust-fuelled contemporary moves of his other shows. He’s a ‘baddie’ with bite.

On the other end of the suitor scale is Leo, played by Chris Trenfield, a strapping gamekeeper who holds the key to ending Aurora’s curse. He’s a dancer with great expression and the bench scene between him and Aurora sizzles with chemistry as they teasingly skirt around their affections with beautiful, yet youthful, elegance - a delight to watch.

But, alas, he is mortal and it is up to the fangs of Count Lilac, played with great character by Liam Mower, to ensure he’s around for the final scenes set 100 years later.

The lavishly decadent costumes of the Victorian era are now replaced by hoodies and camera phones.

Our modern day hero has come to wake Aurora from her sleep - depicted via a beautiful mid-air diaphanous dance scene - and he does so masterfully, locking horns with Caradoc in a highly-charged confrontation. We root for him so much, I almost let out a cheer when he plants that kiss.

The sumptuous sets, designed by Lez Brotherston, are a character in themselves: providing a majestical sweeping backdrop to the cast which certainly gives the Disney version of the tale a run for its money.

My own quibble is the lack of a live orchestra to add an extra dimension to this great score and the modern-day gothic masterpiece it’s spawned.