Out goes tradition but laughs remain
The liberties that Stuart Paterson takes with our ideas of The Sleeping Beauty are founded on dramatic objections: the story as traditionally told is one in which the heroine is mostly hors de combat, and in which the hero arrives with no previous history to save the day.
For a serious fabulist like Paterson, this won't do. His complex, but wholly absorbing retelling of the tale is a sophisticated feat of myth making which borrows freely from other fables (the Princess and the Frog, the Merchant of Venice) and makes subtle points about adolescent discontent, parental love and the importance of character over status.
If that makes it sound earnest, then the impression must be corrected. In Richard Baron's first-rate production, the story unfolds with its own zany colour and theatricality, striking notes ranging from the crude to the sublime. It even features a surreal dream sequence, in which the Princess is taught to show courtesy to frogs.
Beautifully produced in terms of design, music, movement and lighting, the Rep's version is strongly cast, and directed with wit and elegance. Many of the Paterson trademarks are well represented here; the witch Talassa (Amanda Beveridge) is voluptuous as well as scary, the dancing bear Baayo (Kenneth Lindsay) supplies all the necessary pathos, Gareth Thomas's King is a convincingly troubled parent.
And while this writer's appeal largely rests on his eschewal of the familiar panto vulgarities, he somehow gets away with what must be one of the most protracted flatulence sequences in modern stage history. Keep a straight face if you can. I saw Julie Finch's understudying performance as Margarita (Salil Watson being poorly that night) and would never have known that the production hadn't been built around her realistic but uncloying little girlish performance.