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There’s a problem with Matthew Bourne ballets. They’re so inventive, so fantastical and thoughtful, with such style, imagination and creative talent, that they kind of spoil all other more traditional ballets, leaving them in a hinterland of ‘kinda seen it before, now there’s a new kid in town’.

Sleeping Beauty is the perfect example. Quite simply it is faultless storytelling – beautiful, bold, full of colour, adventure, fun and menace, it takes all of the conventions of classical ballet and reimagines them in a way that just has to be seen and enjoyed.

Paris Fitzpatrick (Carabosse), Perreira De Jesus Franque & Ben Brown (attendants) (Photo by Johan Persson)

So, Sleeping Beauty, we all know the story from countless pantos, previous ballets and of course those wonderful old Disney films. Well, you can pretty much forget all of that because that seems to be where Mr Bourne starts, with a clean, empty stage and bottomless well of innovation and spellbinding creativity.

You can also cast aside conventions of tutus, squeaky ballet shoes and single spotlight performances. For a Matthew Bourne production, those costumes are works of art, the sets daunting and doorways to new lands, and the whole package a blatant challenge to better anything that has gone before.

Back to the Bristol Hippodrome, a wonderful theatre that seems destined to host such impressive productions, and before a note is played or step danced, the setting and background give the stage a gothic atmosphere and look that pervades throughout the performance.

Paris Fitzpatrick (King of the Fairies)) and Andrew Monaghan (Leo) (Photo by Johan Persson)

As the curtain rises and the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music fills the hall, the innovation begins, with a silhouette raising an infant above its head with terrible intention, before the action moves to a happy royal home where the baby – an incredible puppet – is shown to be the pride and joy of Queen Eleanor and King Benedict.

But it’s once the baby is put to bed that the magic really takes over. While Carabosse and the dark fairies wish the child for their own, it’s left to the good fairies to guard her, allowing her to grow into a young woman, ready to gaze upon an ever keen field of would-be suitors and wallow in the joy of teenage innocence.

The thing is, despite that line of eligible suitors, Princess Aurora’s heart belongs to another, Leo the Royal Gamekeeper, and their love for each other is set to be tested across magic unknown and years unseen.

Dominic North as Count Lilac and Ashley Shaw as Aurora in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty (Photo: Johan Persson)

Throughout the performances are just stunning. Katrina Lyndon as Princess Aurora is just typical of the new levels that these young dancers reach, combining incredible dance skills with engaging personalities and real acting prowess, that is so superior to the panto haminess of so much traditional ballet.

This also helps Rory MacLeod as Leo, a real, identifiable love-struck teenager, socially out of his depth amongst the Princess’s dandy would-be suitors, but with a down to earth, streetwise vibe that will serve him well in the challenges to come.

As the plot progresses, so the new road it follows becomes so much more than panto romances, with baddies in hoodies, blood sucking vampires and selfie-seeking backpackers taking the action to new and more modern surroundings.

Throughout, however, it’s the genius of Matthew Bourne that remains the pervading catalyst for the brilliance on display. The choreography is fresh and multi-layered, moving away from spotlights mid-stage for set piece solos and pas de deuxs, to more extravagant ensemble pieces where the challenge is take in all elements as the performers dominate the stage.

There’s genuine menace and actual comedy, stunning set pieces and incredible solo talent, all brought together by a young troupe that glows with brilliance and talent.

Yes, I loved this – surely the best piece of ballet to grace the stage in Bristol for many a year, and also just a wonderful piece of sublime theatre. Matthew Bourne, you’re a genius!

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty plays at the Bristol Hippodrome until 4 March. For more details and to buy tickets go to