Sleeping Beauty Review -Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty 2023
Image Source: ATG

The return of Matthew Bourne’s possibly best-loved and most successful ballet, Sleeping Beauty, with his company New Adventures’ ten-year anniversary revival, is an absolute blast, a triumph & demands to be seen.

Bourne has probably done more than any other contemporary choreographer-director to bring ballet to the masses and so, while Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score remains unchanged in this production, Bourne has rewritten the classic fairy tale to throw in vampirism, revenge, puppetry, comedy, Grand Guignol sensibilities and an epic battle between good and evil.

Billed as a Gothic romance, this Angela Carter-esque version shows Princess Aurora (the seemingly light-as-air Katrina Lyndon) as no fainting, biddable princess but a feisty free spirit, challenging her family’s expectations and hopes by falling for the tender and loyal gamekeeper’s son, Leo (a delightfully winning Rory MacLeod).

Although Aurora is cursed by the original evil fairy Carabosse, it is her vengeful son Caradoc (the devilish, menacing, and magnetic Ben Brown, who plays both roles) who is fixated on avenging his mother’s death and forcing through the 100-year sleep curse – only to fall for Aurora himself & prove a love rival to the sweet-natured, loyal Leo. But Leo is about to make a sacrifice that will see him be there when Aurora awakens, courtesy of a dark gift from the vampire fairy Count Lilac.

Via Aurora’s century of sleep, we time jump from the 1890s to ‘yesterday’ – from the nursery of the mischievous and very funny (puppet) baby Aurora, to a dappled toff-filled Edwardian lawn, to a pulsating, frenetic, scarlet hued, modern nightclub.

Every single second of this show is an absolute delight & every aspect of the production is seemingly flawless. (I watched a YouTube video of the original lauded production straight afterwards – and this one is sharper, tighter & even more electrifying).

This is a show that unites the head, the heart, the super-kinetic, and the visceral – and it still manages to intellectually grapple with big themes and ideas via sensuous symbolism. And who couldn’t fail to be moved by the resounding message of the enduring, un-killable nature of true love through personal sacrifice?

If you’re a fan of gothic, Freud, Bram Stoker, the illustrations of Arthur Rackham & even the class consciousness of DH Lawrence (via Lady Chatterley), you’ll be a sucker for this. (A big shout especially to super-fan Jenny, who verbally sold me the show in the bar even before the performance & who kindly bought me a drink when cash wasn’t king).

Go and see this production if you can – even if you dislike ballet; you’ll be entranced & it’ll burn in your memory forever.

Sleeping Beauty is at The Liverpool Empire until Saturday 11th March. Details and ticket links are here:

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding