As it happened, a colleague of mine had a spare ticket for “Sleeping Beauty” at Nottingham Theatre Royal. “Sleeping Beauty” by Matthew Bourne. Gothic style.
I’d never say no to a free ticket. Or even a paid ticket, as long as it is for Tchaikovsky. My love for his music knows bounds of course, but when paired with gothic fairies and denim frocks, it’s impossible to resist.
And that’s how I’ve found myself yesterday at Theatre Royal Concert Hall, positively excited and a tiny bit anxious. And I was right, in both cases! But before we begin, just to let you know what we’re talking about:
Matthew Bourne is one of the most hailed and critically acclaimed UK’s choreographers and directors of operas, spectacles, movies and ballets. I hate redundancy, so I’ll just direct you here for his biography and works.
Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” is so widely known and so many times rewritten, retold, and rethought that it might be hard to find a new way of looking at it. The royal pair, golden-haired child, bunch of nice fairies and an evil (or sometimes just vengeful) evil witch, fairy, godmother, Carabosse. There’s a place for all of that in Bourne’s story, sure. Although it’s moved into late Victorian (starts in 1890), it’s still quite similar to the original story, just with added nanny/governess, creepy mechanical doll (there is something deeply unsettling in things that are almost human), cute ballet scene with dancing fairies, and a spectacular introduction of the evil fairy, all in red and disdain.
But then, after the curse is cast, the evil fairy dies while banished, and all is well. But we’re only half an hour into the story, so…
I don’t want to spoil it for you, as it is entirely possible that you’ll see it some day. Instead let me just share some thoughts, and drown you in pictures (not mine, they are the official show’s photos. It’s not like you should take out your camera in theatre).
Number one: the story. Ridiculous. It didn’t make much sense, but I’m not going to apply logic to a ballet. It’s like whining that your opera drags on, they should have just talk to each other. We’re getting the Carabosse’s son, Caradoc, who looks like a love-child of an elf and a demon (so basically, a true fairy), full of hatred and cunning plans, and grace. Oh, how does he move! He’s face, or at least the facial expression strongly reminds me of something or someone else but I’m unable to pin-point this feeling. Taking into account my short-sightedness, it might be anything from Jane Austen’s movie adaptations to Dragon Age NPCs. But I think it was some elvish fellow that I keep vaguely remembering. There’s also a splash of Kylo Ren in this mixture, I think.
Anyhow, the story proceeds into Aurora’s 21st birthday, a great day to see the princess as a person. Who does not like stockings. Or shoes, for that matter. What she does like, is spending time with a local gamekeeper and gardener in one, the Servant Charming. Well, he’s both charming and a servant, so that’s your plot twist here.
After the inevitable curse and sleep we get the coolest thing ever, and I’m not going to spoil it. It’s just fairies are not the kind you’d be expecting. It’s called “a gothic romance” for a reason, folks. And after hundred years the castle is all covered in briar thorns.
That’s the moment I’ve been waiting for. To tell you about the scenography. The stage arrangements worth a genius. Moving floors and gates, light effects, Aurora floating in mid-air, trapped in a castle, the fog, even the weather! It was so well thought and well conducted! Dramatic sounds with even more dramatic music (thank you, Tchaikovsky!), magnificent decorations and absolutely stunning costumes… Let me watch it again. (And then steal the wardrobe. At least the Count Lilac’s.)
It was brilliant. Over-the-top, cheesy, tongue-in-the-cheek brilliant. The kind of when you know that they’re just playing with the convention, inserting the sexual innuendo where it originally should be, covering it all with glitter and smoky eyes, and awesome waistcoats – and still keeping it classy, with a touch of hilarious. Sure, it’s good to keep your eyes on the action, but then in background you’ll get the funniest little scenes between the servants, and all of the queen’s eye rolls and frowns.
I won’t offend you by question: “Is it worth watching?” It is. If nothing else, it’s Tchaikovsky – you don’t get any better than that. But you see, there’s a lot of this “else” stuff”. It’s funny, well played, stunning, dramatic, and beautiful. Just like Aurora.
And damn, as I’ve just researched Bourne’s other projects, I can’t stop watching clips on Youtube. Why do I feel my life will be null and void without seeing all of his ballets?