Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at the Bradford Alhambra

Recently I’ve stumbled across a new friend who shares my love for theatre, ballet and other such cultural endeavours. Last night we took a trip out to Bradford for that classic (or not) combination of curry and a ballet, since Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is on at the Alhambra, and it’s just rude to schlep all the way to Bradford without having a curry.

The first two acts of this interpretation are relatively conventional. A childless King and Queen turn to a dark sorceress, Carabosse, who presents them with a daughter. However, Carambosse doesn’t feel she has been sufficiently rewarded for her deed, and so places a curse on Aurora.

21 years later, a fey, capricious Aurora comes of age, and is discovering an illicit love with the gamekeeper at the palace. Carabosse has long since died, and it is believed her curse has died with her. However, her son, Caradoc, is still at large and crashes Aurora’s 21st to wreak vengeance and fulfil Carabosse’s curse. Spoilsport.

This leaves gamekeeper Leo at something of a loose end: he will grow old while his love remains 21 for the next century. Luckily, Count Lilac, King of the Fairies intervenes by turning Leo into a vampire, so he can wait out the next 100 years in a tent outside Aurora’s palace. When she wakes, he finds that if he wants to rekindle his romance, he’ll have to get Caradoc out of the way first.

The visuals here are outrageously fine. The costumes are the kind you wish you could reach out and touch, particularly the fairies’ corseted dresses that flare out into ornate, layered silken rags, and the blood red velvet that Caradoc and his associates wear at the neon lit underground party in Act Three. The set retains heavy golden pillars in the foreground throughout, but other than that transforms from an austere nursery, to an afternoon garden party, to an enchanted, dreamlike woodland. Every lift of the curtain brings something new to marvel at, although the star, props wise, has to be the ingenious puppet used to play baby Aurora. She scuttles around the stage, sulkilly slaps at her parents and even climbs up the curtains to escape her nanny in a sequence that had the audience rolling with laughter.

Ashley Shaw, dancing Aurora, is a delight: she acts as well as she dances and moves so lightly that she’s barely there. She brings life to what could be seen as a fairly passive role, by infusing her movements with energy and playfulness. One of the most memorable dances is a little pas de trois with Shaw and two of Carabosse’s henchmen in which she is neat, light and a joy to watch. Dominic North as Leo was fine, but unfortunately he doesn’t give you much to root for, coming across as a bit wet next to Ben Bunce’s dark, charismatic Caradoc. Bunce is a force to be reckoned with on the stage, graceful and quick despite being tall and broad. Caradoc and Aurora have a raw, sexual chemistry, and by the time they’d danced for a couple of minutes I could barely remember the saccharine, innocent duet between Aurora and Leo.

Bourne has spoken of a reluctance to complete his Tchaikovsky trilogy by performing Sleeping Beauty, because the story didn’t really speak to him. He seems to have approached it now only because of a perceived debt to the composer, and a desire to collect the set. This does show somewhat, as the narrative gets a little weaker toward the end, but it’s easily forgivable; in fact, there’s so much going on that you might not even notice. Bourne truly plunders the gothic theme, to create a spectacle that is rich, dark and sexy. The whole thing is really good fun to watch, whether you’re a ballet aficionado or a total newbie.

Sleeping Beauty is at the Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 26th March.

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