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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Sleeping Beauty
by Lizzie Loveridge

Seed and acorn, hoof and horn
All that dies must be reborn
From dusk 'til dawn 'til eve 'til morn
Flesh shall grow then grow forlorn

-- Spell

The Young Vic Christmas show sets new standards of theatrical invention, creativity and magic. Last year we had the exploits of Monkey!, this year a Sleeping Beauty that is as satisfying to adults, as it is to their children. Rufus Norris, who last year won awards for his production of Afore Night come, has reinterpreted Frenchman Charles Perrault's seventeenth century darkly original story of Sleeping Beauty. In the programme, Rufus Norris explains that the Fairies were the inheritors of the Three Fates of Greek mythology who spin, measure and cut the thread of life. He traces back the origins of modern day fairies through Celtic and medieval fairies to the fairy tales, which were only adapted for child consumption in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

So the play starts in the middle with the quirky fairy, Goody (Helena Lymbery) searching for a human prince among mythical and mystical creatures, to wake Beauty (Danielle King). Goody takes us back through the history. She shows us her spell to give the royal couple (Katie Quentin and Milos Yerolemou), a child. She is both the bad fairy and the good one but the rest of this first story, most are familiar with. Beauty is wrapped up in cotton wool by her protective parents and there is a terrible clothes shortage due to the royal ban on spinning and spindles. Inevitably her desire for a new dress results in the fatal prick. But it is in the second half of the story that there is real enchantment. Goody is asked to help a pregnant ogress (Daniel Cerqueira) who has unfortunately eaten her human husband. After all, that is what ogres and ogresses do, eat humans. The Ogress's poignant predicament is that she fears she may want to eat her own baby. Goody succeeds in saving the boy child who grows into a handsome prince (James Loye), meets and marries Beauty, fathers babies Hector and Rose before all four humans are again in mortal danger from the Ogre (Christopher Brand) and their grandmother, the Ogress. "You are what I call ugly!" says the Prince to the Ogre. "You are what I call breakfast!"says Ogre to the Prince.

The director has mixed different styles of music, some chanting, some like English folk music. To distract the ogress, Goody sings a song about meat and gristle and bone and sinew assisted by the chorus whose bandaged and partially haired heads appear from spaces in a turntable, their faces distorted by elastic bands. It is more like a scene from Marat Sade than the traditional pantomime. I loved the costume design, Goody's old, grey, knitted cape lighting up with tiny stars of light and her surprising wig sprouting from a bald head. The thorns are long, extensions on the fingers of the ensemble, twisting and turning in a sinister trap. The table is held up by a table slave who bears the weight on his shoulders, his head protruding. Dramatic lighting too creates eerie atmosphere.

The picture of the Ogress as a victim too of her appetite, "Do you think I have any choice?" she questions. I liked the rhythm of the words, the rhymes and Goody's mixed up order of words in sentences giving her an eccentric voice. There is wit too. The Prince, with one eyebrow permanently raised in a gung ho attitude of dashing hero, who prances, endears him to us and makes us smile. When told by Goody what he is required to do, this is his reaction. " Kiss? . . a girl? Er . . . Ugh! No way. Absolutely no chance. A girl? That is really disgusting!"

The performances are first rate. Helena Lymbery as the twitchy, slightly mad fairy with the post-spell farting problem which leads to her lack of a royal invitation. I swear this is the first play where the special effects include ones that assault the nostrils, but maybe I was sitting behind some over excited, overstuffed youngsters with immaculate timing. Children find farting very funny. Then there is the simplicity of Beauty and the silent film version Prince. And of course the ensemble who deliver so many roles from braying donkey to thorn bush. But top of my list is the wonderful Daniel Cerqueira as the heart-rending ogress torn between motherhood and hunger.

No one in the Young Vic's "in the round" space is more than six rows away from the stage and no seat has a bad view. Now I suspect that this is the kind of play that could give young children nightmares but I think most seven year olds and up should cope unless they are of a nervous disposition. For the rest of us, this Sleeping Beauty is a spine tingling box of delights.

Sleeping Beauty
Written by Rufus Norris after Charles Perrault
Directed by Rufus Norris

With: Christopher Brand, Daniel Cerqueira, Paul Ewing, Hazel Holder, Danielle King, James Loye, Helena Lymbery, Katie Quentin, Duncan Wisbey, Miltos Yerolemou
Designer: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell
Musical Direction: Richard Chew
Sound Direction: Paul Arditti
Movement: Scarlet Mackmin
Running time: Two hours 5 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7698 6363
Booking to 25th January 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 4th December 2002 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1 (Tube Stations: Waterloo or Southwark)
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