Updated: Jan 19
Three things stand out in the National Theatre's production of Hex, the acclaimed adaptation of the classic fairytale, Sleeping Beauty.
First, it is Hexuberantly designed.
Katrina Lindsay has spared no expense on her set and costumes. The theatrical effects are spectacular. The show opens with three fairies gracefully descending from the sky to hover a few feet above the stage, their vivid, colourful, eye-catching gowns swaying gently around their long legs. The stage has a million different colours on display but still manages to avoid looking ostentatious (at least not to your humble bee, but then the bee does feed off brightly coloured flowers that might be an eyesore to your regular garden ant).
Second, Hex departs from the fairytale tradition of keeping its female characters vain and vacuous
The way Hex retells the story of Sleeping Beauty gives us a refreshing break from the usual fairytale staples, bidding goodbye to the happily-ever-afters of empty-headed princesses, the breathtaking beauty and perfection of fairies, and the pure evil of ogres and ogresses. No, the story adds layers and depth to each character.
The princess is not just a pristine, delicate flower; she is also an annoying baby who nearly pushes her mother to madness. She is an annoying teenager who, like all other teenagers, rebels against the reasonable rules set by well-meaning parents. Her union with the prince is most certainly not a happily-ever-after and exhibits more than once the conflicts and bickering, both shallow and deep, that characterise most regular-people-relationships.
Third, Lisa Lambe pulls off a fairy character that seems to derive its beauty from its own lack of it.
The fairy is short, stout, even rotund, and runs about the stage like a child without the slightest bit of feminine grace or dignity - how fresh and freeing! Further, the fairy isn't perfection impersonated either. She is as flawed as any human - gets carried away by emotion, says things she regrets for a long time after (a hundred years in this case), lies to cover up old lies, creates enough lies to sink inescapably into her own trap of lies, and tries for nearly a century to remedy the consequences of her - well - 'meddling'.
Adorable in ways that a 'conventionally' beautiful fairy character could never be, Lambe is cute like a child and also mature like a lonely widow. And her voice is absolutely beautiful. One of her songs brought the bee to tears.
Hex forces one to come to terms with 'The Nature of the Beast'
As for the ogress, she is, indeed a baby-eating monster, but she is not without conflict. She displays an impressive understanding of morality (or at least morality as human beings understand it) as she battles the 'nature of the beast' inside her. She painfully showcases the conflict a creature of her kind may face between embracing her inner instincts for survival (i.e. eating humans, including her own half-human baby), and exhibiting some of the more "human" traits - love, friendship, motherhood - that she has come to learn and admire.
Thank God it's not another happily-ever-after!
Finally, the fairytale ends bittersweetly, with the prince and princess coming to terms with the difficulties of keeping the peace in a household, the ogress experiencing the bitterness of regret and the fairy the causticity of a lesson learned the hard way, before they all decide that they are, well, just human. (Except the ogresss and the fairy. And perhaps the prince.) The ogress and fairy become friends in the end, and this, despite all its cheesiness, did make the bee tear up a little.
A realistic musical about a fairytale that is dark, complex and also somehow humorous and touching. The bee loved Hex and strongly recommends it.
Watched January 2022 at the National Theatre