Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

April 27, 2016 by

It isn’t the fault of Matthew Bourne and his designer Lez Brotherston that I find moving dolls utterly creepy. Think of the 1980s horror film Chucky.

So when we are supposed to go all gooey when a baby puppet sits up and then crawls around the set and up the curtains etc I would have pulled its head off. No wonder the dark fairy Carabosse curses it.

In contrast, at the sugary-sweet ending of this supposed Gothic tale (I won’t spoil it for you by saying exactly what happens) when the creepy doll makes another appearance I was reaching for the sick bag.

No, this Matthew Bourne populist adventure in dance is not for me – but it had the Cardiff audience gasping for more. Great that he sells tickets but so sad that the Mariinsky was such a box office disappointment in the same venue just days ago. Ah well. Vamp camp sells.



Bourne isn’t known for holding back but this product from the New Adventures production line is just a bit too safe with the odd homage to Petipa, safe sets with twinkling lights and lanterns, time shifts that allow for lots of costume changes. The result is all a bit too mumsy and even the vampire yes, vampires) are the pretty boy type.

Bourne choreographs best for boys and in this work it felt that at time the women appear to be there to make up the numbers which is strange when the ballet is called Sleeping Beauty. It should really have been called Caradoc as he is the character that dominated the entire evening.

This revival has an excellent cast who twinkle around, jog along to Bourne’s bounce-and- flounce-on-the-beat steps. Even when it  gets a bit too fussy such as the garish red Parisian brothel scene (I am sure it wasn’t really meant to be that) the dancers execute the movements slickly and with a near mechanical style.




Grace is sadly lacking in this love story and when our lovers do get to dance together in the rapture of passion, their leaps and catches that are more chunky Yorkie rather than smooth and creamy Galaxy. It is in the romantic scenes where Bourne fails to match anything like the emotional wonders of Tchaikovsky’s score and the duets are the most unsatisfying. This is such a shame because much of the second half felt like padding (as much sleep walking towards the finale) after the excitement (and inventiveness) of the pre-interval action.

The conveyor belt on the stage that has been used to good effect to let the fairies glide in and around in the first half now became a part of an awful faux running conceit. I still don’t know whether it was meant to be funny.

Interestingly as the adult princess, Ashley Shaw is made to be a bit of a tom by who would rather leap around and escape her foppish Edwardian pretty boys for the chunkier gamekeeper danced by Chris Trenfield. He is given a far more prominent role than Aurora although much of it spent running around the stage rather than gifted with memorable dance movements.

Adam Maskell is just great in two roles of Carabosse, the dark fairy that was not invited to the party despite having given the gift of a child to the royals, and then her son Caradoc. He is as dominant in the plot as our frustrated lovers. This tall, elegant, black garbed and winged fairy (why is there such a gay male thing about fallen angels?) cleverly wins Aurora but, of course, the story cannot end that way.

It is all easy on the eye with the story set in the year the score was written 1890, in a Russia that could not know that it was in the autumn of the Romanov dynasty. The parents look like Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov, and seem over-protective parents of the princess Aurora (like the young haemophiliac Tsaravich Alexei Nikolaevich). The servants fuss around the crawling doll and look petrified that the baby will come to any injury It sort of fits in with the pricked finger.

For me it had neither the finesse of classic ballet nor the bite of contemporary dance.  Those fangs were just a bit blunt and missed the jugular. It was all entertaining enough although and the audience lapped it all

Until April 30.

Photography: Johan Persson

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