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Sleeping Beauty
Published on Wednesday, 17 August 2011

3 stars

theSpaces on North Bridge (venue website)
5-6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27 Aug, 4:10pm-4:55pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

The programme entry for Sleeping Beauty says it will appeal both to the young, and to those struggling to retain their youth.  What it doesn't directly say is that it's essentially a mash-up (I think that's what the kids call it) of the familiar Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and the witches from Macbeth.

The coven is an interesting addition to the mix, leading to a darker reimagining of the story which reverses perspectives and motivations.  The trio of sisters wish, Omen-like, to rule the world vicariously through the newborn daughter of the King and Queen.  The existing witch Carabosse is not at all pleased with that prospect and curses the young princess, Briar Rose.  From there things get back more or less to normal: Rose pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, falls asleep, and is awoken by a handsome rescuer.

I say all that because the opening of the play is incredibly dense, in both action and dialogue, and at points it was a little hard to keep up with the cod- or actual-Shakespearean dialogue.  I wasn't initially sure of Carabosse's angle, for instance.  It was nonetheless a solid take on Shakespeare vs. Grimm (I'm not familiar enough with the works of Thomas Middleton to speak to his influence), and the sinister closing visual was suitably unhappy-ever-after.

The young cast perform well, and their creepy rose-stem inspired makeup adds an unfamiliar and distant air to proceedings.  I admit I winced a little when they formed up to make a human bonfire, but their drama-school exercise ('imagine you're a fire!') was actually really effective and left me abashed for my cynicism.

The puppetry tries to give a further dimension to the storytelling, and elements of it worked well enough – the tiny villagers pottering about in their menial lives aimed to reinforce the class separation plot point, and the human marionette was an effective touch.  Overall, it was perhaps a bridge too far in what was an already quite busy production.  I also wonder if, taken as a whole, everything combined would be a bit too dark (and a bit too impenetrable) for younger kids – it's billed as a family show although, to be fair, they themselves say “this is no theatre for children.”

All the same, I enjoyed this new adaptation: it was a good ensemble performance from a growing company with a solid, if slightly overwrought story which hits a suitably grim tone.

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