National Theatre Olivier
til 14th Jan 2023

“Our colourful and big-hearted new musical returns for Christmas.

Deep in the wood, a lonely fairy longs for someone to bless.

When she is summoned to the palace to help the princess sleep, her dream turns into a nightmare and her blessing becomes a curse.

Soon, she is plunged into a frantic, hundred-year quest to somehow make everything right.

Rufus Norris directs this vividly original retelling of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale with music by Jim Fortune, book by Tanya Ronder, designs by Katrina Lindsay and choreography by Jade Hackett.”

Review by Richard Lambert, 2 Stars

When you call yourself the “National Theatre” and you’ve got loadsa money, a huge staff, and unimaginable resources to create theatre, somehow you expect to see the best that theatre can offer.

How then does a show, created in-house, directed by the National Theatre’s artistic director, manage to end up with a musical theatre production of a lower standard than most Off West End fringe productions?

The highlight of the show is the lighting by Paul Anderson. Grand superb gestures from a massive lighting rig give the production an operatic style of opulence. The lighting is truly magnificent! A revolve of 2 concentric rings are cleverly used to stage both people and scenery, with a central scissor platform creating an impressive banqueting table/dance runway.

Sadly the other departments do not quite come upto expected standards. The radio mics are occasionally turned on later than needed, the costume designer must have gotten approval for the ensemble rennaissance tunics and tutus and tights before casting because this strongly exposes the lack of dance technique from the ensemble.

Musically there is little to enjoy. Despite a cast of around 19 there is a distinct lack of harmonies and the solo songs are far from show-stopping. The standout performer is without doubt Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who plays Queenie. Her performance is both charismatic and chilling adding the only drama to an otherwise mediocre production.

Of course there is drama in the story – an ogress eating her daughter-in-laws babies. There goes the younger family audience. But in my opinion taking this musical fantasy in an unnecessarily ugly direction is a cop-out way to add drama. It certainly doesn’t come from falling in love with any of the characters and emotionally investing in their journey. Unflattering costumes and the lead Fairy in a deliberately tatty costume does little to offset the feeling that this is all rather lacking in glamour and glitter.

Musical Theatre is a challenging genre. It requires a director who knows the genre. Strong acting skills are not sufficient to cover weak dancing and singing skills. While applauding the diverse casting it doesn’t appear to have made wise decisions in the requirements of a modern musical.

When a production really doesn’t work on so many levels, maybe it’s time to not just write about eating family members’ babies but to actually kill your own baby and start again.

Tickets link: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/hex

Listings Info:

a new musical based on Sleeping Beauty
book by Tanya Ronder, music by Jim Fortune and lyrics by Rufus Norris
original concept by Katrina Lindsay and Rufus Norris
Now playing to 14 January
Running Time: approx. 2 hours 30 mins incl. interval