Review: Sleeping Beauties (Brighton Fringe)

The Storytelling Choir, “a collective of Sussex-based storytellers who work together to reforge our well known tales by exploring their multiple history and forgotten complexity”, spent a year from January 2020-January 2021 looking at the story of Sleeping Beauty and how women are presented in these tales. There is not one simple version of the story, they argue: instead different facets and themes are explored through song and storytelling.

The baby girl cursed to fall asleep for a hundred years, suspended in a world of dreams, to be awakened by “true love’s kiss”, has been told in many versions, some sweet and sanitised like Disney’s classic 1950 animation, some boldly translated (check out the two volumes of Virago Fairy Tales edited by Angela Carter) or developed into horror or even erotica (Anne Rice’s trilogy). In the words of the Storytelling Choir, Sleeping Beauties becomes a magical, strange, and enthralling piece of theatre.

I expected this show to be more about song than story, but once I got into what the Storytelling Choir are about, and listened to their different interpretations of the tale, carefully woven together, I enjoyed what I was watching. These are explorations of a story which has moments which owe much to Greek mythology, to the metaphors of sexual awakening, and the hiding away of women in a world dominated by men.

Promotional image for Sleeping Beauties

The storytellers are Joanna Gilar, Nana Tomova, Sophie Gibson, Fleur Shorthouse Hemmings, and Marina Evans. They all have different perspectives on the classic tale, pulled from deep within half-waking dreams, of the world of flora and fauna around them, and the harshness of nature (“the tower of thorns”). They are weavers of words, crafting these new perspectives as those before have done; passing stories down through generations.

Running at ninety-four minutes, Sleeping Beauties has no technical flourishes to make it filmic, but stands on the incentiveness of its words and the skills of those performing them. It is a piece of online theatre which doesn’t need frills – this is a celebratory piece of storytelling from five experts in the form.

Fringe rating: ****

You can access Sleeping Beauties online at the Brighton Fringe until 28 June. You will need to reserve a ticket, but they are free – book here.