an entertaining ballet with a vampire bite

(Johan Person)

There are two Sleeping Beauties in town this season (the other is Hex at the National Theater), but neither is what you’d call festive. Matthew Bourne, in his return production at Sadler’s Wells, takes the classic ballet from Tchaikovsky’s storybook and stages it. Prevent thunderstorms, deafening howls, scary fairies and cursed marriages. Oh, and vampires too.

The original ballet is long on melody, short on plot. Bourne, the dance’s most committed storyteller, tries to ensure that the story of a curse relieved by a true love’s kiss never loses momentum. It’s not seamless, but still entertaining and delivered with panache.

We open in 1890 (so the heroine’s 100-year nap takes us more or less back to the present). A royal couple make a deal with the dark side and tag a little princess (a hyperactive puppet, climbing the scalloped curtains). Aurora is protected by wild fairies, apparently escaped from Helena Bonham Carter’s wardrobe: tumbled curls, smudged mascara and raggle-taggle hems. Carabosse, the evil spirit who gave the baby away but now feels neglected, is far scarier — Ben Brown makes her snide and imperious.

    (Johan Person)

(Johan Person)

A curse is carried. Aurora comes of age in an idyllic Edwardian summer. Katrina Lyndon led the cast I saw, full of life and bursting with tomboyish energy: she takes off boots and stockings at the first opportunity, and moves in vigorous play. In love with gamekeeper Leo (Stephen Murray), she spends her birthday waltzing among the topiaries until Carabosse’s son, Caradoc (again Brown) appears, bent on evil, brandishing cheekbones like offensive weapons.

Caradoc’s duet with Aurora, sliding with tango intensity, suggests an entry into a perilous adult world. He drops an enchanted, thorny rose that causes seizures, falls, and apparent death. Lilac, the Fairy King (played with vigilante charisma by Dominic North) turns Aurora’s fate into a century of slumber and bestows Leo amorous immortality with the ecstatic bite of a vampire.

When the production premiered in 2012, True Blood was the vampire reference of choice – this revival is settling under the cape of the rebooted Interview with a Vampire series. Surely it’s no spoiler to say that Leo, waiting for the century in his bobble hat, delivers the adoring kiss that wakes his beloved – but he and Lilac must fight for happily ever after during a vampiric masquerade ball.

Bourne’s regular creative team delivers lavish delights, and Paule Constable’s lighting gives the drama maximum intensity, setting the scene in indigo for the fairy’s spell and crimson for the vampire ball. The casting gives it full-bodied engagement and punchy detail: Shoko Ito’s harassed nanny and Cameron Flynn’s chinless wonder of a suitor are particularly eye-catching. But the way Bourne forces plot bits together doesn’t feel beautifully inevitable, and this show can’t deliver the emotional kick of its best work, despite the lavish and ingenious conduct.

Sadler’s Wells, through Jan. 15; buy tickets here

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