Sleeping Beauty: back by popular demand

As Matthew Bourne’s award-winning production of Sleeping Beauty returns to Bristol Hippodrome on 28 February, we speak to Ashley Shaw and Andrew Monaghan about returning to their lead roles as Princess Aurora and Leo…

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is back by popular demand, celebrating 10 years since its premiere at Sadler’s Wells in London, when it became the fastest selling production in the company’s history. Now established as a firm favourite in the New Adventures repertoire, the award-winning production has enchanted international audiences throughout the UK and across the globe, scooping up three Los Angeles Drama Critic Awards and the Ovation Award for Best Production along the way.

Set to grace the stage at the Bristol Hippodrome from 28 February to 4 March, audiences are invited to enter a wondrous world of magical fairies and vampires, where the timeless tale of good vs. evil is turned upside-down, creating a supernatural love story that even the passage of time itself cannot hinder. Will Princess Aurora ever find her true love again?

With an unforgettable score by Tchaikovsky, sumptuous sets and costumes, evocative lighting and masterly storytelling, the beloved fairy tale is brought to life. As many prepare to be transported in time from the halcyon days of the late Edwardian era through to the modern day in this dazzling gothic romance, Ashley Shaw, who plays Aurora, and Andrew Monaghan, who plays Leo, let us in on life behind the scenes of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty…

How does it feel to be returning to Sleeping Beauty?

Andrew: It’s nice return to the show because I’m getting to step into the role I covered last time. In 2016, I covered Leo and now I get to play him full-time, which is really lovely. I get to have a bit more of a go at it, perform it more often and dance with Ashley more – it feels like a nice progression while visiting something familiar.

Ashley: It’s always great to return a show and a role. I’ve done this role twice before and each time you return, you find new things within the character and the dance, you find new ways of telling the story using your experience so it’s really nice to be back.

How do you go about building your character in rehearsals?

Andrew: We do a lot of research outside the rehearsal room. Matt (Bourne) is such a film buff, so we get an amazing list of films and resources that he wants us to watch. For our characters and relationships, we looked at works like The Go Between and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which also tackles class division in relationships so we use that as inspiration but we also chat with the people we share our roles with – they always have a different approach and it’s nice to marry the two together.

Ashley: The shows never sit still; we’re never satisfied. I don’t think we’re ever satisfied as dancers and I’m sure it’s the same with Matt (Bourne) as a creative. It’s constantly a living breathing thing that we want to develop and make better and there’s always room for improvement.

Above: Ashley Shaw (Aurora) and Andrew Monaghan (Leo)

Your roles are both integral to the storytelling of the show – how do you manage the pressure?

Ashley: It is a lot of pressure. We try not to dwell on it too much. It’s not something I really think about, but when I do think about it, it is quite a responsibility. We have experience behind us, which always helps. We’ve told stories like this before; we do know how to do it and that gives you that self-confidence. You feed off each other, and if you’re truly in the story and the character, you’re thinking about that, rather than ‘oh I need to deliver this story’, you’re just living the story and hopefully that translates.

Andrew: I think particularly when I was first started out, Etta (Murfitt), our Associate Artistic Director, said if you get nervous, just tell the story. Taking the external pressures off performing for 2,000 people really helps. So it’s nice to tap into that if you do have those shows that feel a bit nervy, but generally I quite like it.

How does performing the show in front of an audience influence your performance?

Ashley: The audience really is that final piece of the puzzle. We rehearse on our own, we practice our quick changes, we try on our wigs and costumes and everything and that final piece is when the audience enters the auditorium. It’s who we do it for.

Andrew: It’s always really interesting to see what gets a reaction and what doesn’t. When you’re prepping the show in the rehearsal room you’re doing it under bright lights, really close up mirrors, management are really close, and things just don’t get a reaction because they’ve already been seen 50 times. When you start to do it in front of an audience and things get an applause, it’s a really lovely last piece of the puzzle, like Ash was saying. You realise what is key is connecting with the audience.

How do you work to keep your performance fresh and alive throughout a long run?

Ashley: For the last two tours I’ve done of this show, I’d say I’ve done maybe 300 shows as Aurora. For me, every show is a fresh slate with different casts and different audiences. Quite frankly, it’s just what I love doing – I love performing and I love this role so much.

Andrew: I think a big attraction of New Adventures company is the fact that the work is so rich in detail and you have different casts, which helps keep it fresh. People like to come back and see the show more than once – they become friends of the company.

Do you have any routines or rituals that help you prepare for a show?

Andrew: I used to have pre-show rituals. Last time we did this show I did one of the fairy tracks, which is quite a lot of technical dancing right at the start of the show. I used to have to go through my solo before the start and if I didn’t I’d really freak out. And actually, that was really bad because I’d be really stressed if I didn’t do it so it was a really good experience of trying to let go of stuff and not have anything to do before the show. Now, I generally just like to take my time; I don’t like to rush. I like to have time to stretch and wake my body up.

Ashley: I’m the same, I don’t like to get too attached to anything in case for whatever reason that can’t happen and then it throws you. But unlike Andrew I get ready really early. My character doesn’t come in until the very end of Act 1, because Aurora is a baby at the beginning and is played by a puppet. I have about 25 minutes from when the show starts to when I’m actually on, but I feel the need to come down at the beginning and do my barre in the wing whilst the fairies are doing their solos – I’ve actually musically choreographed a barre to the show.

See Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Bristol Hippodrome from 28 February – 4 March. Book your tickets at: | Photography by Johan Persson

Featured image: Ashley Shaw (Aurora), and company | All photography credit: Johan Persson