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sleeping beauty at the old vic | review

As me and my friend Lottie shimmied in to one of the stalls at the Bristol Old Vic, I was very excited. I’d never been inside the Vic before, and it is stunning. Evocative of really old Bristol, grand, and atmospheric.

As old as the theatre might be, it was the perfect setting for a twist on the traditional tale of sleeping beauty that was as zesty as a pint of fresh lime juice.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Ensemble - Photography by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty, in Sally Cookson’s fairytale, is Prince Percy, an only child loved and cosseted by his wonderfully demonstrative parents. Percy is guarded by a gaggle of wise women aunties who throng together like coloured marbles in a bag, clacking and clucking and adoring him also. Sadly, there is of course a wicked curse to deal with, which is doled out in spectacularly oily, boo-hiss style by Stuart Goodwin as Sylvia. The quest to lift the curse is on, and sees Percy meet his match in more ways than one along the way.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Joe Hall (King Derek) and Lucy Tuck (Queen Vanessa) - Photography by Steve Tanner

I loved the simplicity of the set, the minimal but effective props (the ‘journey’ scene through all weathers is genius). I loved the camaraderie of the wise aunties, it’ll remind you so much of your group of friends, whatever age you are. As a mum, I really enjoyed the innocent, all-encompassing keenness of Percy’s folks.

Ewan Black’s sweet, guileless Prince Percy is delicious. The opening scene which sees him in floods of tears had the crowd sniggering slightly, but, as the story returns full circle, by the closing moments you want to cry for him, too.

I spoke to Benji Bower, the composer of the soaring, almost singalong score, and musical director, before the performance. He told me that much of the dialogue was improvised in early rehearsals, and then set to script as the play took shape. The music followed suit. Watch out for the torch-songs, of which there are a couple, they’ll be in your head for ages! Special mention to the trio of musicians who set the scene in each half, I’m a big fan of unlikely covers, and they were unlikely covers!

If you’ve seen any of Sally Cookson and Benji Bowers’ previous work together you’ll know that this is another must-see production. It’s length, with interval, may have children under 7-8 wriggling a bit, and some of the lighting and sound is quite effective, which could frighten some littler kids. But, it was just right for a wet and windy winter’s night at the theatre.

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    • Definitely something we should do more regularly

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