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Review: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at Birmingham Hippodrome

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty is back in the city and it is totally unforgettable.

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at Birmingham Hippodrome
*****
Johan Persson Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty is back in the city and it is totally unforgettable.

The more usual versions of The Sleeping Beauty (Bourne drops the definite article you'll notice) are very much the old fairytale theme, flower fairies, a pretty Princess Aurora and a handsome Prince.

Peter Wright's version for Birmingham Royal Ballet broke that mould completely. Like Bourne, Wright chose the darker side of the old story and BRB and Wright made a splendid ballet that ranks among the best productions around at the moment.

But Bourne takes the established plot and re-works it in a completely wonderful way, as he did with his all-male Swan Lake many years ago.

The result is spectacular, with a magical landscape where innocence is in direct conflict with evil - and when Bourne does evil you hold on to your seat gripped by his sheer audacity.

For example, a front cloth gauze gives us a story guide and then comes a deafening thunder crash worthy of the Ride of the Valkyrie.

In fact, you are so disorientated that you simply sit there mesmerised filled with a sense of huge forces moving around you over which you have no control. Silhouetted against a huge moon is a winged figure epitomising consummate evil. It is the bad fairy Carabosse out for revenge, someone in the royal household forgot to invite her to the christening of the royal baby. Carabosse sees it as a social snub and takes her revenge accordingly.

Johan Persson Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Then the stage slowly fills with gorgeous images of winged creatures spinning, running, striding or sitting watchfully.

All of this is reflected in glass panels set in a Baroque ballroom and the marvel of it is nobody collides in a whirlwind of dance which is breathtaking given to us by a truly fabulous company, sexy, clever and as fascinating to watch as the catwalk models at a top fashion show.

The general theme throughout is the 18th century.

Designed by Les Brotherston, sets and costumes are stunning combining 18th century elegance (sleek wigs, full-skirted coats) with contemporary cool, therefore the underside of the men's coats are layered with colour-coordinated feathers, which, allied to a make-up conceit of dark eyeshadow worn as you might wear a slim, velvet mask gives just the right baleful "look". Bourne's fairies are here to obey dark forces and not to amuse us. Even the baby princess is eerie since Bourne uses sublimely clever rod puppetry to suggest the child in her crib and finally you become convinced the puppet is real.

And a very special word for Adam Maskell, a marvellously compelling dancer with a fine stage presence who doubles in a richly theatrical gender switch (Bourne is always topical) as both the evil Carabosse and her even more evil, vengeful, son out to get even with his mother's murderer (as I said - this version is disturbing)

Johan Persson Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Princess Aurora achieves her birthday in the gardens of a huge residence reminiscent of the Romanov winter palace, with her parents recalling images of Czar Nicholas 11 and his Czarina. Here, Brotherston creates perhaps the finest skyscape I have ever seen and under this summer sky Bourne does a democratic switch by turning the more usual Prince Florizel into the royal gamekeeper, Leo. He is the handsome young boy who finally gets Aurora's heart, (and maybe sees out the Romanov dynasty) yet whose innocence (danced by the strong and appealing Dominic North) does not save him from the kiss of an envious vampire fairy.

Don't worry, Bourne makes sure he survives gets the girl at the end, in the overgrown forest.

Incidentally, we must now address Matthew Bourne as Sir Matthew - never was a knighthood bestowed on a greater genius.

Until Saturday

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