Sleeping Beauty, Barbican, London

Spinning a dark triumph

The director Rufus Norris reinvents the (spinning-)wheel in his darkly enchanting adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, which began life a couple of years ago at the Young Vic and is now revived on the main stage of the Barbican. This version pushes beyond the confines of the familiar story. The climactic kiss that awakens the heroine occurs just before the interval. Considering what befalls her afterwards when married, Beauty could be forgiven for wishing that the Prince had left her unroused from her epic kip. For she's landed with the mother-in-law from hell, an ogress with an overpowering taste for human flesh and hungry designs on Beauty's babies.

The presiding spirit is Helena Lymbery's startling Goody, a twitchy, tattered fairy who has a red bog-brush of hair; little, skeletal excuses for wings; screwed-up syntax and, evidently having skipped fairy finishing school, a gross habit of letting off a fart every time she performs a bit of magic. Spells mean smells when she's around.

Norris has had the endearing notion of packaging together the characteristics of both traditionally contrasting fairies in this one chaotically conflicted figure. Narked at not being invited to the christening feast, she lays the classic curse on the baby (wanting to save it from a life with parents who break promises). Then, though, racked with compunction, she tries to save 16-year-old Beauty (Lyndsey Marshall) from the consequences, but the power of the original spell - beautifully dramatised in a sequence where the train of Beauty's new dress folds round her and drags her to the spindle where she loses her balance and pricks her finger - proves too inexorable.

The first half is told mostly in flashback, as Goody recollects the past for the succession of princes (all hilariously played by James Loye) who fetch up at the forbidding forest surrounding the castle. Its briars poke as nightmarishly gloved hands through the boards of Katrina Lindsay's superbly compact and sinisterly suggestive drum-revolve design. Most of these young royals are non-starters, such as the buck-toothed nerd who wants to "assess the level of her beauty" before venturing forth. Even the pint-sized hero proves to be a rosy-cheeked hearty chump much given to launching into preposterously macho morris dances, and is clueless about which bit of Beauty he's supposed to kiss.

Underscored by unaccompanied chants (sung by the cast) that sometimes sound a bit bare and musically uninspired, the production generates a macabre, witty atmosphere that's a perfect blend of the hand-over-mouth and the tongue-in-cheek.

The outstanding performance comes from Daniel Cerqueira as the ogress. In part, this fleshy gourmand is cannibalism's answer to the camp pantomime dame, and she does a wonderful line in blasé regal evasion (he "may have got lost in the mêlée" she casually declares of the grandson she think she has just devoured). But there's such a driven dignity in Cerqueira's portrayal that he brings an almost tragic dimension to the character. It's not so much La Cage aux Folles you recall when he cries "Do you think I have any choice? I am what I am", it's Shakespeare and the Greeks.

The production loses very little in shifting from an intimate in-the-round setting to large proscenium space. Highly recommended.

To 11 January (0845 120 7550)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?