TACKLING the third instalment in a series of innovative Tchaikovsky adaptations was always going to be daunting for Matthew Bourne.
The choreographer received rave reviews for Nutcracker! in 1992, and for Swan Lake (1995), the response was even greater – which is perhaps why it’s taken him so long to come to Sleeping Beauty (the show premièred in London in December).
The performance received lukewarm reviews from critics down south, with many stating that the characters had no depth – that the most exciting performance on stage was that of a puppet.
But allow a ballet novice to venture an opinion: they’re wrong (except, perhaps, about the puppet).
Sleeping Beauty opened to a packed audience on Tuesday night, and, if the seats near mine were anything to go by, the crowd were enraptured from scene one.
Baby Aurora – a lively puppet outwitting governesses and foot servants alike and at times literally climbing the walls – is a great, comic introduction to the classic fairytale, and provided plenty of laughs from the start.
Bourne’s Beauty bears scant resemblance to the Disney story, adopting a Gothic romance approach as baby Aurora is entertained, by moonlight, by her undead fairy guardians.
Of course, we all know the story: beautiful maiden, a curse which lasts for 100 years, etc. etc.
But few in the audience will expect Bourne to use that 100 years in its entirety, spanning from the Victorian nursery up to present day (complete with text messaging tourists desperate for a glimpse of the sleeping princess).
Particular credit has to go to the two leads, whose on-stage chemistry is perfectly pitched: Aurora (Hannah Vassallo) is no prissy princess, and her playful tumbles with her true love gamekeeper are endearing and easy to relate to.
Leo (Chris Trenfield), in turn, is a likeable adaptation of the fairytale prince – and is allowed to play for laughs for a change.
Then, there’s the arguable star of the show: the charming yet sinister Caradoc, set on avenging the death of his mother, the dark fairy Carabosse (both played by Tom Jackson Greaves).
His first appearance, at an Edwardian garden party, jars (dressed in black and white, wielding a black rose – why does no one recognise a baddie when they see one?) but by the climactic scene set in a hell-fire nightclub, audience members will love to hate the tattoo-adorned bad boy.
Matthew Bourne is, undeniably, a storyteller – and herein lies his success.
Sleeping Beauty – as with his previous efforts – is an inventive and modern take on classical ballet, but his real talent lies in conveying every twist of the tale perfectly, without the need to consult the programme at interval.
Sleeping Beauty runs at the King’s Theatre until Saturday (February 16). Performances 7.30pm (and 2.30pm Sat mat) and tickets are £15-£38.50, from ATG Tickets