Forget Disney’s Sleeping Beauty fairy tale – Chichester’s Christmas version is a dark drama set to bewitch

The CFYT company of Sleeping Beauty in rehearsal at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Richard Gibbons
The CFYT company of Sleeping Beauty in rehearsal at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Richard Gibbons

Sleeping Beauty, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre. On now until December 30

For many parents, their understanding of the story of Sleeping Beauty will have been entirely shaped by the 1959 Disney animated film.

They will instantly associate the fairy tale with Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary score for his ballet of the same name completed nearly a hundred years’ earlier.

Fundamental to both is the absolute contrast between good and evil.

So this new production by Chichester’s acclaimed youth theatre instantly challenges those preconceptions by taking a far more mature view of Charles Perrault’s original yarn.

Here, as happens in real life, the dark and light are distinguished far less naively. Instead, we see in all the characters the essential flaws and perfections of human nature.

Izzy Richardson as Beauty. Photo by Helen Murray

Izzy Richardson as Beauty. Photo by Helen Murray

There is no wicked fairy - just one who sought to do good, was appallingly treated by the Queen she aided to have the child Beauty, but who subsequently tried to put matters right.

There is a part two as well reflecting the original story in which we see beyond the Prince marrying the Princess and them both living ‘happily ever after’.

For we all know, the real challenge in every fairy story is not the journey to unite true love - but the year in and year out adventure of sustaining it thereafter.

The annual youth theatre production in the main house is not merely a seasonal event but one of the most highly anticipated moment’s in the theatre’s calendar matched only by the main festival season.

It also represents some of the darkest drama to bewitch audiences - for it has never shown any fear of exploring themes from which less courageous producers might shy.

This year does not disappoint.

From the magnificence of the set and the costumes to the sheer excellence of the performance this is a breathtaking triumph.

Key roles tend to alternate between young players.

To highlight some of the best on the first night - the Queen brought to life by Molly Berry with the same sharpness of spirit as Miranda Richardson’s own creation in Blackadder; the fearless, dashing Prince (Joe Russell) who has to confront the horrors of his ogre parentage; the three who play the key fairy Goody during different stages of her life (Francesca McBride, Emily McAlpine, and Katie Utting); and a terrifically terrifying portrait of the mother of the Prince (Megan Bewley) - whose love of her grandchildren is excelled only by her love of human meat.

And of course, Beauty herself played with such accomplishment by Izzy Richardson.

Do not buy your tickets expecting either pantomime or sugar coating. Rufus Norris’s script and Lucy Betts’ direction are without mercy.

But shining through it is a production to which all other youth theatres can only aspire.

Check out our art editor Phil Hewitt’s review of this play here. Let us know what you think by commenting on our Facebook page!

READ MORE: Libby Connor will be one of our two beauties this Christmas at Chichester Festival Theatre