Sleeping Beauty, Lowry Theatre, Manchester
In a strange twist of fate, worthy of any Hans Christian Anderson yarn, Matthew Bourne, once the subversive enfant terrible of the ballet world, has been transformed into the handsome home-coming hero.
His once-shocking productions which so trod on the toes of ballet purists have eased into a position of traditional familiarity, with many people now making a return trip to a Matthew Bourne production part of their annual Christmas festivities.
Having lost the shock factor doesn’t make his work any less fabulous. Premiered in 2012 with sell-out audiences all over the world, his spectacular re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty returned to the Lowry for a five-night run. Billed as a haunting gothic romance, there’s enough drama here for everyone; the epic, age-old struggle between good and evil, the heart-rending central love story between the Princess and The Gamekeeper , and of course as with any gripping tale of mythical enchantment – a good number of fairies.
The curtain opens in 1890 at the Christening of Princess Aurora. As she slumbers, the plot develops and by Act II the action has moved on a hundred years. The sumptuous costumes by Olivier-nominated Lez Brotherston reflect this change; one minute billowing silken gowns, the next, hoodies, chains and retro trainers. His dazzling sets transport us to a whimsical yet familiar world; magnificent looming gates to the magical kingdom dominate the stage, cascading shimmering backdrops , the ingenious puppetry of baby Aurora...
This lavish production delivers all that we have come to expect from Bourne and his talented company. There are standout performances from Ashley Shaw as Princess Aurora – spirited and sublime in her prologue solo. Chris Trenfield as Leo the Royal Gamekeeper has the charm and earnestness of any Disney Prince. The bad fairy danced by Adam Maskell, has a dark, rock-star charisma running through his compelling and menacing performance.
As with so many of Bourne’s productions, it’s the final scenes that stay with you – Tchaikovsky’s soaring romantic score building up to an overwhelming crescendo of movement, emotion and colour that leaves the audience stunned into an awe-struck silence.