The updating, revising, transposing, or re-imagining of fairy tales is a fairly well-worn concept now in 2019. Ever since Robert Coover‘s 1969 collection of short stories Pricksongs and Descants, which included versions of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, the revisited or modernised fairy tale has become an increasingly popular and reliably satisfying model. The most significant example in this genre is Angela Carter’s seminal The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) , in which the emphasis on drawing forth the underlying themes of violence and sex allowed Carter, a feminist, to create a new, more empowered, imaginative space for female identity. With Sleeping Beauty, Colette Garrigan aims to do something similar, exploring working class female experience, using fairy tale tropes and conventions as ironic reference points. While the tone of Sleeping Beauty is more in-keeping with the colloquial warmth of Carol Ann Duffy than Carter’s ostentatious, baroque style, the frankness and irreverent wit of The Bloody Chamber is reflected here to powerful effect.
Set in Liverpool, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of the early life of a Scouse princess protagonist, who dreams of one day leaving her troubled home to live happily ever after with her Prince Charming, a footie-mad premature ejaculator called Paul Hodge. She fantasises about the fairy tale life she aspires to: living in a semi-detached house in the suburbs, owning her own dishwasher and enjoying the luxury of drinking tea from cups with matching saucers. Unfortunately, her dreams and aspirations seem to constantly elude her, her naivete and vulnerability leave her open to exploitation, and her attempts to escape her challenging circumstances lead to crime and drug abuse.
Garrigan’s working class ‘tale as old as time’ is effective within the fairy tale framework, and the fact the story is not bristling with originality feels intentional and appropriate for the genre. Emotional impact and theatrical novelty is granted to the piece by Garrigan’s energetic performance, as well as her inventive use of props and shadow-puppetry. Mundane household items are used cleverly to create shadow tableaux of wicked witches and enchanted forests, imaginatively recreating the inner life of the character as she processes her experiences. The minimalist use of sound is similarly fitting and potent. The smattering of french language is another allusion to Perrault, the author of the original fairy tale, and its juxtaposition with Scouse vernacular further establishes a theme of romantic ideals versus the harsh realities of life.
Garrigan’s demure appearance at the start of the performance – elegant in a simple black dress and chic bob, politely smiling and acknowledging the audience as they file in to the auditorium – serves as an effective contrast for some of the more lively, physical, and occasionally less-than-dignified elements of her performance later on (though still endearing). The overall down-to-earth, engaging nature of her stage presence compliments her undeniable technical flair and precision as an artist, leaving the audience charmed to the point where occasional fluffing of lines has no discernible impact on tension. Garrigan’s spell is virtually unbreakable.
A charming and compelling production, Sleeping Beauty showcases Garrigan’s creative and technical talent, confirming her place, and that of her company Compagnie Askelere, as a formidable force in European theatre.