Bristol Hippodrome theatre review: Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Vivienne Kennedy reviews Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty presented by New Adventures at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 5th March

“A visit to the theatre should be a magical experience” writes Bristol Hippodrome General Manager Neil Chandler in his welcome message for the programme and Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, performed by New Adventures, certainly provides magic in abundance.

It’s a fairy tale that we’re all familiar with. The dark fairy, Carabosse, helps King Benedict and Queen Eleanor to have the baby they long for, but feels the king isn’t suitably grateful so places a curse on Princess Aurora, their daughter. Luckily she has some kinder fairies on her side who manage to amend the curse so that it results not in certain death but in a very long sleep instead. This is a beautifully different telling of it though.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score, the first scene is set in 1890, coincidentally the year in which Petipa’s ballet, for which it was written, premiered. Aurora, at this point appearing in puppet form, is a baby; one that is intent on causing all kinds of problems for the palace servants charged with her care. There is a lot of comedy in the first section of this scene, followed by some brilliantly choreographed solos from those kind fairies I mentioned later on.

We then move on to 1911, described by Matthew Bourne as being a “famously golden Edwardian summer”, when Aurora, now played by Ashley Shaw, a real live human, comes of age. We meet gamekeeper Leo, played last night by Chris Trenfield, and see the young couple begin to fall in love. The party, of course, ends in tragedy, Aurora pricking her finger on a rose – doomed to sleep for 100 years, or, at least, for the length of the interval.

When we retake our seats it is 2011 and Aurora is about to wake up. Carabosse has long since died, but her son, Caradoc, is on the scene and just as evil. He’s not about to let Leo reclaim his sleeping beauty without a fight. Adam Maskell played both mother and son for the press performance, capturing the nastiness well. The dance of the sleep walkers in this section is delightful.

The fourth and final scene is set “yesterday” when Aurora is about to marry Caradoc. Meh, that’s not going to happen. Leo, of course, saves the day, defeating Caradoc in a battle to the death before a “and they lived happily ever after” ending that left everyone with grins on their faces.

I won’t beat around the bush, everything about the show was all that I hoped for and more. Having missed its visit to Bristol in 2013 (since then I have checked the Bristol Hippodrome’s website before ever booking a holiday), I have been waiting a long time to see it and I wasn’t disappointed for a moment.

The choreography is perfect; the sets and costumes, designed by Lez Brotherston, are sumptuous; the lighting and sound design, courtesy of Paule Constable and Paul Groothuis respectively, is spot on; and the overall result is a show so breathtakingly beautiful that I could watch it again and again.

I’ve noticed over the last few months that the once automatic standing ovation at Bristol Hippodrome is no longer a thing (so it means much more when it does happen) but last night there was no doubt that people would stand to applaud and oh boy was it deserved.

It’s on until Saturday. Go if you can.

For further information, including performance times and ticket prices, visit

Image: Matthew Bourne’s SLEEPING BEAUTY. Adam Maskell (Carabosse). Photo by Johan Persson

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