Based on the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, Hex is a new musical with a book by Tanya Ronder, music by Jim Fortune and lyrics by Rufus Norris. The show premiered at The National Theatre in 2021, however, was quickly postponed and then canceled due to the pandemic. Now, with a new cast, Hex re-opens at the National for a full run, and audiences can finally be transported to a land of enchantment and wonder this festive season.
Drawing from the original source material of the Sleepy Beauty tale, Hex focuses on a lonely Fairy who longs for someone to bless with a spell. Fairy is discovered in the woods and invited to the palace to bless a newborn Princess. When she arrives the Queen’s temper flares and Fairy accidentally places a Hex on the princess (that she will prick her finger and fall asleep, only to be awoken by a Prince) losing her power in the process. She is then plunged into a frantic, hundred-year quest to somehow make everything right. Over the years following many Princes’ attempt to rescue the Princess, only to be pricked and fall asleep too. Fairy is then sought out by an Ogre Queen who wants Fairy to cast a spell to stop her from eating her newborn son (as is Ogre nature). Fairy discovers the Queen is immune to the sleeping hex prick and awaits the day she can introduce the newly born Prince to the Princess and right her long-ago wrong. The Prince saves the Princess and they have two children, however, the Ogre Queen discovers Fairy’s plan and orders the babies cooked and served for dinner. Will Fairy save the babies in time for the family to live happily ever after?
Rufus Norris directs Lisa Lambe (professional singer and folklorist) as Fairy, Rosie Graham (Sanditon, Outlander, The School for Good and Evil) as Princess Rose, Michael Elcock (The Visit, The Meaning of Zong, Queens of Mystery) as Prince Bert and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, The Wild Party, In The Heights and The View Upstairs) as Queenie). They’re joined by a large ensemble playing multiple characters throughout including Zaynah Ahmed (Disenchanted, Wonka), Marc Akinfolarin (Pirates of Penzance, Crazy for You, Anything Goes), Christopher Akrill (HeadSpaceDance, Home, l’m Darling, Cabaret), Sabrina Aloueche (We Will Rock You, Starlight Express, Les Miserables), Ben Goffe (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Chris Jenkins (Jack Absolute Flies Again, Billy Elliot, Spamalot), Kalisha Johnson (Grease, Hairspray), Amanda Lindgren (Six, South Pacific, Cabaret, The King and I), Michael Matus (Martin Guerre, Phantom Of The Opera, Lend Me a Tenor), Kody Mortimer (Hairspray, Gypsy, 101 Dalmatians), Neïma Naouri (Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, West Side Story), Mark Oxtoby (Oh, What a Lovely War!, Back to the Future, The Phantom of the Opera), Kate Parr (Follies, Crazy For You, Saturday Night Fever), Aharon Rayner (The Great British Bakeoff: the Musical), Olivia Saunders (Kinky Boots – the Musical in Concert, Frank and Friends), Sasha Shadid (Breakin’ Convention, Summertime Ball), Rumi Sutton (Heathers) and Riley Woodford (Antigone, Jingle Jangle, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie).
Lisa Lambe as our unconventional Fairy, is perfectly cast. Her folksy powerful singing voice and Irish charm lends itself well to Jim Fortune’s score and Rufus Norris lyrics. Combined with Katrina Lindsay’s imaginative costumes, Lambe’s Fairy is the misunderstood character the audience immediately identifies with and champions. Rosie Graham as Princess Rose is anything but your typical Princess. She’s independent, strong and wants more adventure out of life. Her interactions with Michael Elock’s Prince Bert were some of the most tender moments and their first meeting and song together was very sweet. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as the benevolent but misunderstood Queenie, is absolutely fabulous. She commands the stage with an undeniable presence in every scene and her powerful singing voice fills the National Theatre with ease.
While the story of Sleepy Beauty is somewhat known, Hex is not a pantomime or adaption of the well-known Disney film. Instead, it’s a rather macabre mythical fairytale where animals are killed onstage and a ravenous ogre thinks she’s eating human infants. While Paul Anderson’s lighting design, Katrina Lindsay’s set, Simon Baker’s sound design and Ash J Woodward video design combine to create some visually stunning magical moments, the tone of Hex seems uneven. With it’s violence and some swear words included, Hex doesn’t seem appropriate for small children however doesn’t flesh out its characters or offer a satisfying enough lesson to keep adult audiences interested throughout it’s two-hour-and-a-half runtime.
Hex is exactly what it advertises; a colourful, vivid original re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. The cast are exceptional and the special effects are magical. With all the show’s bells and whistles, the audience on press night certainly enjoyed the performance however like Princess Rose in the show, I was left wanting a bit more adventure.
Reviewed by Stuart James