These days, fairy tale adaptations are just about as abundant as fairy tales themselves. Writers have always been tempted by the neat, pre-made package of moralistic fables. However, it takes more than an unfamiliar setting and a dash of modern slang to keep these tales timeless. This is something collaborators Jeff Unger and Farren Timoteo know very well: their reimagining of Sleeping Beauty for Alberta Opera is a treat to watch. Bright, honest and devilishly cheeky, it infuses the rusty tale with vibrancy and freshness, making it the perfect kick-off for the Fringe Theatre Adventures 2012/13 season.
The campy children’s musical opens in 18th century France, and through a series of comic vignettes we follow the story of Princess Violette, a headstrong and compassionate young royal who was unfortunately cursed by the jealous fairy Arianna to fall into an everlasting sleep as soon as she turned sixteen. The curse will take hold when Violette pricks her finger on a magic spinning wheel. Knowing this, Violette’s royal mother bans every sort of spinning, rolling, turning, or – just to be safe – anything circular at all. But, as Violette and the citizens of France soon discover, life is a lot duller when trapped within the confines of straight lines and perfect angles.
Highly immersive and brimming with French culture, Sleeping Beauty explores, through circulations in time travel, personal responsibility and courage. Only three actors are used to bring life to nineteen different characters: Mackenzie Reurink brings down the house with her vicious belt in the role of evil fairy Arianna. Arielle Ballance exudes charm and spunk as Princess Violette and demonstrates a perfect knack for comic timing as the wildly extravagant Queen Mother. Steven Angove is endlessly hysterical as he leaps from character to character. From a down in the dumps mime to a cross-dressing fairy to his wildly energetic turn as the hapless Prince Charming, Angove is sure to be a favorite for young audience members.
The original script is sweet and quirky, and is beautifully punctuated with Unger’s lush, jazzy score. However, the ending falls just flat. We are left with the promise of a typical happily-ever-after, but given the inventiveness of the adaptation, it might have been more fulfilling to delve into a detailed denouement. Unger and Timoteo have created a winning heroine in Princess Violette, and audiences would love to cheer her on in a final triumph.
Nevertheless, Alberta Opera’s Sleeping Beauty is impossible to resist. It’s funny and unassuming, but most of its charm lies in its imaginative story-telling. The musical is reminiscent of a big game of dress-up: the actors perform against a simple, blockish castle setting, eagerly exchange flashy, over-sized costumes and regularly go “off-script”. The creators have captured a beautiful authenticity in this. Amongst endless retellings of a classic story, Alberta Opera’s version of Sleeping Beauty manages to awaken the imaginations of young and old alike.
- Hayley Moorhouse