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Chatting to Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty Returning Dancers

We speak to Ashley Shaw who plays ‘Aurora’ and Andrew Monaghan who plays ‘Leo’ about returning to Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty”, building a character and any rituals they have before they go on stage. 


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We speak to Ashley Shaw who plays ‘Aurora’ and Andrew Monaghan who plays ‘Leo’ about returning to Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty”, building a character and any rituals they have before they go on stage. 

You have both appeared in Sleeping Beauty before – what opportunities does returning to the show present for you as cast members?  

Andrew: It’s a nice return to the show this time for me, because I’m getting to step into the role I covered last time. So, in 2016 I covered ‘Leo’ and now I get to play him full time, which is really lovely. I get to have a bit more of a go at it, perform it more often and I get to dance with Ash more which is lovely and it that feels like a nice progression whilst visiting something familiar. 

Ashley: It’s always so great to return a show and role. I’ve done this role twice before and each time you return to something, you find more new things within it, character growth, dancing growth, you find new ways of telling the story using your experience so it’s really nice to return. 

How do you go about building your character in the rehearsal room?   

Andrew: We do a lot of research outside the rehearsal room as well. Matt (Bourne) is such a film buff, so we get this really amazing list of resources he wants us to watch. And for our characters and relationship we looked at stuff like “The Go Between” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. There’s lots of a class division in those relationships which is great for us so we kind of take stuff like that and then we chat with the people we share our roles with, and they always bring something else and a different approach and it’s nice to marry that together. 

Ashley: The shows never sits still; we’re never satisfied! I don’t think we’ve ever satisfied as dancers and I’m sure it’s the same with Matt (Bourne) as a creative. It’s constantly a living breathing thing that we want to develop and make better and make more sense and there’s always room for improvement. We’re never satisfied! 

Andrew: It’s endless!  

Your roles are both integral to the storytelling of the show – how do you manage the added pressure of this?   

Ashley: It is a lot of pressure. We try not to dwell on it too much. It’s not something I really think about, but when I do think about it, it is quite a responsibility. We have experience behind us which always helps. We’ve told stories like this before; we do know how to do it and that gives you that self-confidence. You feed off each other, and if you’re truly in the story and the character, you’re thinking about that, rather than ‘oh I need to deliver this story’, you’re just living the story and hopefully that translates. 

Andrew: I think particularly when I was first starting out, Etta (Murfitt), our Associate Artistic Director, said if you get nervous, just tell the story. Taking the external pressures off performing for 2000 people really helps. So it’s nice to tap into that if you do have those shows that feel a bit nervy, but generally I quite like it! 

Ashley: I quite like it! 

How does performing the show in front of an audience influence your performance?  

Ashley: The audience really is that final piece of the puzzle. You know, we rehearse on our own, we practice our quick changes, we try on our wigs and costumes and everything and that final piece is when the audience come into the auditorium. It’s who we do it for. So, it does affect it in that sense. This is moment, this is why we’ve done all these things, why we’ve rehearsed, to give these people and amazing show.  

Andrew: It’s always really interesting noticing what gets reaction and what doesn’t. Because, obviously when you’re prepping it in the rehearsal room you’re doing it under bright lights, really close up mirrors, management are really close, and some things just don’t get a reaction because they’ve already seen it 50 times. And so, when you start to do it in front of audience and things get a response and things get applause, it’s a really lovely last piece of the puzzle, like Ash was saying, to bring all together. And it does alter a bit because you realise what’s really key with connecting with the audience.  

How do you work to keep your performance fresh and alive throughout a long run?   

Ashley: For the last two tours I’ve done of this show, I’d say I’ve done maybe 300 Aurora shows. I’ve done it a lot, and people ask how I keep it fresh. But for me every show is a fresh slate with the different casts, different audiences and quite frankly it’s just what I love doing and I love performing and I love this role so much. 

Andrew: I think that’s a big attraction of this company because the work is so rich in detail and you have different casts, which helps keep it fresh. People like to come back and see the show more than once, which is great for us and then they become friends of the company. 

Do you have any routines or rituals that help you prepare for a performance?   

Andrew: I used to have pre-show rituals. Last time we did this show I did one of the fairy tracks which is quite a lot of technical dancing right at the start of the show and I use to have to go through my solo before the start of the show and if I didn’t I’d really freak out. And actually, that was really bad because I’d be really stressed if I didn’t do it. So, it was a really good experience of trying to let go of stuff and not have anything I’ve got to do before. I generally just like to take my time; I don’t like to rush. I like to have time to stretch, wake my body up. 

Ashley: I’m the same, I don’t like to get too attached to anything in case for whatever reason that can’t happen and then it throws you. But unlike you I get ready really, really early. And my character doesn’t come in until the very end of Act 1 because Aurora is a baby in the beginning and is played by a puppet; so I have probably about 25 minutes from when the show starts to when I’m actually on but I feel the need to come down at beginners and I do my barre in the wing whilst the fairies are doing their solos and I’ve actually musically choreographed a barre to the show.. 

Andrew: Have you? I love that! 

Ashley: Yeah, which you’ve just reminded me of! Just doing that barre in the wing, watching the fairies, and getting into the show even before my entrance.