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Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 27th Jan 2016 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith


There are many excellent versions of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and Bourne’s ballet is no exception. He introduces a gothic atmosphere through supernatural elements, dark and picturesque opulence and melodramatic devices. The story is not just a love story; the story is a battle between good and evil. 

Bourne’s variation spans from the 1890s – the year of the ballet’s first performance in St Petersburg - to the modern day. Princess Aurora is a long-awaited child; in fact it is Carabosse, a fairy of the dark arts, who has facilitated the arrival of the child. However, Aurora’s parents, King Benedict and Queen Eleanora, are not grateful enough to Carabosse and at Aurora’s christening, while six of the fairy godmothers bestow gifts such as passion, spirit and temperament on the child, the wicked fairy curses the baby and condemns her to die from pricking her finger. Count Lilac (a vampire) can only reduce the spell to a 100 year sleep. 


The years pass and the wilful, capricious baby – the puppet baby is the joy of the 1st Act – turns into a wilful, capricious 21-year-old of the Edwardian era.  Aurora is courted by Leo, the palace gardener, but also has eyes for handsome, sexy Caradoc, the evil son of the wicked fairy Carabosse. Caradoc gives Aurora a black rose and it is a thorn from this rose which results in the long sleep. Leo can awaken Aurora after a100 years because he has become a vampire after being bitten by Lilac. 

The span of time and place in Sleeping Beauty enables Bourne to choreograph a variety of dance styles – the solo dances of the fairies, Aurora’s barefoot Isadora Duncan sequence, the sleepwalking scene, the Edwardian tennis match, the pas de deux of Caradoc and Aurora,  – and each era’s dances have a  wonderful naturalness to them. The dancers are physically and musically perfect, full of vitality and charm; leaps and steps echo Tchaikovsky’s magnificent music flawlessly. Ashley Shaw, is out-standing in her role of Aurora; her movements sinuous and fluid, her interpretation of joy and sorrow exceptional. Tom Clark excells as Carabosse and Caradoc – a dark ,menacing figure who fills the stage with foreboding. 

The designer Lez Brotherston delights the audience with the stage settings – the full moon, the fairies magically weightless entrance on a conveyor belt, the enchanted forest – and through the richness of the costumes, from embroidered brocades to soft linens to delicate chiffons and the use of a whole gamut of colours from clashing pastels and greys and blues to  garish red and soft rose pink. Visually, Sleeping Beauty is a masterpiece. 

 However, I must finish on the one negative note. That is the lack of an orchestra. Although the recorded music filled the theatre and was masterfully edited, a live orchestra would have added another dimension to this entrancing ballet. 

Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until 30th Jan and then on tour

Bookings 0844 871 7652

Booking fees apply





1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 2 years ago
    Many thanks, Alison. Bourne is a true master of contemporary ballet and storytelling through dance, but I have to agree with your point about live music.
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