REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty | Liverpool Empire | 16.02.16

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (photo courtesy of Simon Annand)

Matthew Bourne’s version of Sleeping Beauty first graced the stage in 2012, this New Adventures production becoming the fastest selling show in the company’s history. Since then it has won plenty of awards and the hearts of thousands across the world, smashing box office records in the UK. The show is now returning to the stage again, stopping off at the Liverpool Empire Theatre from Tuesday 16th until Saturday 20th February 2016. Mari Jones went along to the opening night to catch this dazzling production firsthand.

The fairies and baby Aurora
The fairies and baby Aurora (photo courtesy of Simon Annand)

Having raved about Matthew Bourne’s production of Edward Scissorhands last year on here, I jumped at the opportunity to once again catch one of his shows at the Liverpool Empire. I was happy to find that Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is an equally captivating production that once again features the choreographer’s own unique twist on ballet movement and performance. Yet while Edward Scissorhands was an original stage adaptation, Sleeping Beauty also gave Bourne the extra challenge of reimagining an already well-established classic – a challenge that he has more than risen to.

Keeping the fairy tale plot intact, Bourne reinvigorates the original ballet, updating it for our times in a way few others could. Giving it the title ‘A Gothic Romance’, Bourne focuses on the relationship between Princess Aurora (Ashley Shaw) and Leo (Chris Trenfield), a love that has already blossomed at the start of this production and one that is soon ended when Aurora is sent into a deep sleep because of a curse. He also adds another interesting storyline involving a new character named Caradoc (Tom Clark), a jealous rival who tries to make the curse come true so he can avenge his mother’s death (Carabosse – also played by Tom Clark) and keep Aurora to himself. It is in the second act of the show that this new narrative really comes to life, Bourne creating a dark, nightmarish scenario in which Aurora seems doomed to never be reunited with her one true love.

Aurora herself is an altogether more rounded character than seen in classic productions of the ballet. This is again down to the aspects of the narrative Bourne has chosen to explore in more detail, specifically the start of the story when she is just a baby – something that very few productions show. Bringing her to life through the use of stunning puppet work, he portrays her as a mischievous baby who is literally climbing the walls (moments that are brilliantly laugh-out-loud). It is also Ashley Shaw’s stunning performance of the older Aurora that reinvigorates the character, Shaw portraying her as an equally quarrelsome teen who isn’t quite yet ready to be an adult. Shaw’s mesmerising movements complement Bourne’s beautiful choreography as well, with some of the most captivating dances of the show being between her and Chris Trenfield as Leo, the duo truly showing great chemistry onstage as the couple.

Ashley Shaw as Aurora
Ashley Shaw as Aurora (photo courtesy of Simon Annand)

Bourne’s inventive choreography also adds further depth to the original fairy tale, his bold moves perfectly matching Tchaikovsky’s original music and effortlessly conveying the plot to the audience. Highlights include the dance of the fairies, which uses hidden conveyor belts to give the illusion of the dancers floating, and a performance soaked in red light that appears to be set in a sleazy club, a dark yet hypnotic dance in which Tom Clark truly impresses as the imposing, malevolent Caradoc. You can feel his intense glare no matter how far your seat is from the stage.

With beautiful sets that perfectly complement the choreography, this is a production that has you fully immersed from start to finish, and one that is an absolute joy to watch. All of the elements of Bourne’s production work together to create a truly spellbinding show that is fresh, endlessly inventive, and fascinatingly modern. On at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday 20th February 2016, this is one production that you don’t want to miss out on. TICKETS

Written by Mari Jones

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