The Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Ballet review - treated as a museum piece, this classic is decorous but dull

No one watches The Sleeping Beauty for the plot. “They dance, they fall asleep, they dance again,” was how one critic summed up the 1890 premiere in St Petersburg. It

isn’t the fairy tale story that captured subsequent generations, but Tchaikovsky’s majestic score and the intricate geometry of Marius Petipa’s choreography (he worked out

patterns for his group dances with papier mâché dolls). Productions must find meaning beyond technical accomplishment, but at the Royal Ballet it remains thoroughly pretty, but

unmotivated – decorous but often fearsomely dull. I find it a tough ballet to love, although woven into the company’s fabric. Londoners fell upon it with heartfelt gratitude

when it reopened the Royal Opera House in 1946. After wartime years of grim monochrome and powdered egg, the tale of a world pulled back from the brink of disaster must have

struck a chord, and its shimmering colours would have been a balm. But that was then; our current age of austerity has a different vibe. We too might crave a fable of a

better world – but not one mired in antique hierarchies. The designs, developed from Oliver Messel’s 1946 wonders, are testaments to lost theatrical arts of gauze and backdrop,

but the effect is almost oppressively tasteful. More damagingly, the action unfolds without intent. Where are we: a healthy monarchy or a regime ripe for toppling? These

vapid monarchs and politely skippy courtiers give no clue. Only Kristen McNally’s wicked fairy raises the temperature, visibly seething at being excluded from the royal

christening, delivering her curse with satiric glee.