Review: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Matthew Bourne (or so I should say), Sir Matthew Bourne (New Year’s Knighthood and the likes), famed for his successful take on two of the great Tchaikovsky ballets, reinventing a dark, Dickensian Nutcracker and a wild Swan Lake, has taken to the stage to complete the Tchaikovsky trilogy with Sleeping Beauty. Yet, in tackling Sleeping Beauty, one would consider it to be a much harder challenge. A simple story with much loved, well-known characters, and the Disney retelling cemented in the public consciousness, in theory and on paper, Sleeping Beauty seemed a much harder ballet to reinvent. But Bourne delivers with style and excellence.


On the 30th of December I was lucky enough to go and watch a performance at Sadler’s Wells: the home of Matthew Bourne and his company ‘New Adventures’. As I entered the theatre, located in Islington, the building had an exciting atmosphere around it. People of all ages had flocked to see the performance, with such a diverse audience ranging from children to the elderly, it was apparent that the story of Sleeping Beauty was certainly one that had a universal appeal. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different types of people come to watch a ‘dance’ show; a story told simply through movement for two and a half hours.

That is the beauty with Bourne’s creation; he crafts pieces of works which are accessible to all, targeting not just die-hard ballet fans, but inclusive performances for the whole family to enjoy. It is this very point which I think made the whole performance of his Sleeping Beauty so enchanting from start to finish. There was never a moment where I as an audience member felt excluded, I was aware of what was happening from the very beginning right to the end.
There were moments in Bourne’s version where his choreography didn’t have the exaggeration to match the grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s music, but this really didn’t matter. From the minute we heard the sound of thunder bellow around the auditorium, and a baby’s howls bursting through this particular version of the score, this was then made more dramatic by the looming winged silhouette of the wicked Carabosse (the evil fairy or the Maleficent character to those more accustomed to the Disney tale and not that of the Brothers Grim version). It was clear that Bourne had created a darker, more sinister, and captivating tale than one could have ever imagined.

Without giving much of the plot away, the inclusion of multiple fairies and vampires only heightened the intensity of the overall performance. What could have been seen as gimmicky and unsophisticated, was instead heartfelt, and with the current trend for such topics thanks to franchises like the Twilight Saga, the audience thoroughly connected with the characters and their elaborate plots.

Special credit must be given in this review to the incredible dancers, from principles to ensemble, who graced the stage in the show. Making every movement seem effortless and elegant, each and every member of the company worked tirelessly to bring to life Bourne’s imagination, and executed it with pure triumph and charisma.
In Bourne’s clever gothic rewrite of sleeping Beauty, he has successfully discovered something enthralling and beautiful, which is delivered to perfection by his talented cast.