'Sleeping Beauty' is the second ballet Tchaikovsky wrote, more than a decade after what had been an initially unsuccessful opening of 'Swan Lake'. Yet in an inspired series of cross-fertilisations with the Russian composer, choreographer and artistic director Matthew Bourne has left it till last, waking it up with an interpretational kiss that includes puppets, conveyor belts, and vampires.
This gorgeous gothic reading of the story has allowed long-term Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston to go wild. The production starts in 1890 with a layered set – all gilded wallpaper, subtly reflecting windows, and full moon – in which a gleefully capricious animated royal baby literally has the staff climbing the curtains to supervise her. It progresses to Princess Aurora's coming of age against a garden party that evokes the glamorous Edwardian prissiness of 'Downton Abbey', before the hundred year sleep that of course lands us in our own era complete with post-Goth chic and 'Twilight' trendiness.
Perhaps more controversial than a sly vampire twist is Bourne's decision not to use a live orchestra. Instead – as is suitable for someone who has flirted so extravagantly with film – the sumptuous score is delivered in pre-recorded surround sound, which is less of an aberration than some purists would have you believe.
A DH Lawrence-esque flourish shows Hannah Vassallo's barefoot princess-with-attitude passionately embracing Dominic North's dashing gamekeeper before receiving the stilted attentions of her more foppish suitors. Bourne also kills off the evil fairy Carabosse, reincarnating her in a son (both are played by Ben Bunce) who looks like a cross between Mr Darcy and Nosferatu.
This may not seem as radical as some of Bourne's work, yet it is still an exquisite evening out thanks both to its subtle multi-referential wit and the sense that the evening's creators had a lot of fun making this. The conveyor-belt choreography is the icing on a heavily ornate cake – my favourite moment remains the point when Carabosse glides past the window as lightning flares against the full moon.
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