BalletDanceNorth WestReview

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty – Liverpool Empire

Director/Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Reviewer: John Roberts


Completing his trilogy of Tchaikovsky’s big ballets, Matthew Bourne has once again brought his captivating sense of imagination and re-invented this classic ballet for The Vampire Diaries generation. Here, fairies, magic and mystery sit beautifully alongside the dark menace of the vampire and helps to firmly set Bourne’s gothic transposition of the ballet.

Bourne has done his homework here; many may think that the Sleeping Beauty tale we know is the true tale – in fact, we are almost likely to recount the Disney retelling than the dark original where Aurora’s (Beauty) children are served up as dinner for her new step-sister. So by bringing in the much deeper, darker storyline, he actually takes the storyline closer to the original than perhaps most are aware of. It must also be noted that he, of course, sprinkles the storyline with his own artistic licence and by bringing in a love story between Aurora – who is beautifully danced with poise and perfection by Ashley Shaw – and Leo the Royal Gamekeeper, who have both grown up together, makes the whole romantic edge of the tale stand up to better scrutiny.

Performed on Lez Brotherston’s foreboding set, filled with iron-wrought gates and gold gilded columns, the design provides a playground of mystery – for example, the entrance into the woods brings a depth to the stage that simply takes your breath away. Pair this with Paule Constable’s lighting design, which is a work of art in its own right, sculptural and shadowy she manages to convey a whole layer of atmosphere throughout the piece. The music despite not being played live was recorded specifically for the show under the baton of Brett Morris is rich and vibrant – one would love, however, to see Bourne tour at least one of his shows in the future with a live orchestra, which would bring the whole show up to another level.

The choreography from Bourne is seductive and sensual, his rhythms and routines throughout Tchaikovsky’s movements bring clarity to the music and in turn brings out the power and storytelling. Chris Trenfield delights as love interest Leo and his transition from gamekeeper to eternal angel of the dark is a delicious twist to the tale. Tom Clark is devilish in the joint role of the evil queen, Carabosse, and Caradoc, her villainous son. Clark provides a pointed and sharp portrayal that juxtaposes perfectly with the more free-flowing aspects of the other characters, and Christopher Marney brings a splash of colour and gothic romanticism to the role of Count Lilac, the King of the Fairies, but the show simply belongs to Shaw who captivates the audience with a sense of wonderment and naivety. Credit must also be given to ensemble members who perform as puppeteers throughout, never has a puppet seemed so lifelike and real than they do here.

Sleeping Beauty is always going to be a crowd-pleaser; it has all the trademarks of a classic Bourne production but one can’t help feeling that it tries just a little too hard in places, but that is a small niggle in an otherwise extremely enjoyable night at the theatre.

Runs until 20February 2016 | Photo: Simon Annand

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Dark and Mysterious

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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