Review: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty @ New Wimbledon Theatre

Matthew Bourne is known for his twisted take on ballet but this classic fairy tale begins with all the romance and traditional choreography you would expect from the Tchaikovsky-scored dance.

The sumptuous set is hung with full-length curtains drawn back to show a full moon as the baby princess Aurora, newly gifted to the King and Queen, makes her entrance.

A playful puppet baby is cleverly manipulated, crawling and shuffling through the legs of servants and attendants as they frantically try to gather her up, the gentle humour lightens the mood against the dramatic backdrop.

As the ballet is set in 1890 the fairies are distinctly Victorian storybook creations in their ragged glamour and tiny fluttering wings, they’re too traditional to show any of the famous Matthew Bourne edge.

The entrance of the dark fairy bringing the sleeping curse to Aurora is where the first touches of the gothic creep in as faceless dancers enact her future to a horrified King and Queen and jeering fairies move with staccato animal purpose.

Matthew Bourne Sleeping Beauty baby CMPRS

The story cuts forward to an adolescent Aurora, performed by a mesmeric dancer who conveys all the rebellious charm evident in her baby self, in love with a gardener who sneaks into her room to bring flowers.

At an overwhelmingly twee Edwardian garden party, and a slightly overlong dance piece, moustachioed gents crowd the young princess and in her exuberance to escape she ends up in the arms of a vampiric sinister figure – her fate is sealed.

The foreboding gates the sleeping princess is hidden behind are straight out of Disney, and with the melodies so familiar you’ll find yourself humming along to the 1959 film’s songs.

This ballet really hits its stride in second half, the mannered garden dances are long gone and in its place a fairytale dreamscape filled with blindfolded sleepwalkers.

This was a stylish set, an eerily-lit forest and the seething dancers beyond the gates prevent the lovers from meeting as the dark fairy keeps the sleeping Aurora imprisoned.

The gothic romance is played out as the despairing fairy can’t awake the girl and he dances with her somnolent and spiritless body before angrily discarding her.

Matthew Bourne Sleeping Beauty prince CMPRS

The stylish second moves abruptly between mood and timezone shifts from the dreamlike forest to the modern day where 100 years have passed and tourists take selfies in front of the looming gates.

In the court of the vengeful bad fairy the gothic element is updated from gloomy castles to a blue neon-lit scene with dancers decked out in racy red velvet costumes as the gardener makes one more attempt to save his love.

There are moments of wit when the audience burst into laughter, and the rapturous applause and standing ovation as the curtain dropped was infectious.

The move into the modern changes the mood of the performance, the dreaming dancers were a highlight but the morally ambiguous fairies updating the gothic to 80s Goths were an anachronism.

Story-telling through dance always works best with a well-loved tale and stylings of the performances, although inconsistent, lent the ballet an upbeat energy and narrative drive.

This is a perfect family outing as there is something for everyone from bijou ballerinas to disco dads to enjoy in this spirited production.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty A Gothic Romance is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday March 26.

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