Review: Hex, National Theatre

The long-delayed Hex is a curious festive offering at the National Theatre, albeit one blessed with visual splendour and the glory of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

“We don’t prick on demand”

Hmmm, a fascinating one. The National Theatre tried their best with Hex last year but Omicron played merry havoc with the run, meaning it never officially opened. It has returned this year with a new cast and it turns out to be a curious thing indeed. An off-kilter musical adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, it is directed by Rufus Norris, artistic director of the NT and the lyric writer here, the book by his wife Tanya Ronder and music by Jim Fortune, and it has already proven highly divisive. 

In some ways, you can see why. An unwieldy ensemble of characters means the focus never settles on anyone, not least Princess Rose (the Sleeping Beauty figure). Instead there’s Fairy, the fairy without wings who curses the baby princess accidentally out of frustration, marginal parents, a dancing chorus of thorns, and a purple-dressed baby-eating ogre called Queenie. Fast forward 16 years and Queenie’s half-human son who just might be immune to the poisonous thorns wakes Rose and begets twins pretty sharpish, only problem is Granny’s coming to visit.

It is often tonally muddled, its messaging on motherhood not always 100% clear or particularly insightful for the modern age. But Norris’ production is suitably lavish for the festive period, designer Katrina Lindsay (also co-credited with the original concept) has gone to town with floating fairytale castles, ethereal fairy wonderness and Grimm-like darkness just around the corner. Jade Hackett’s choreography also offers up some moments of great fun in some unexpected group numbers.

Fortune’s eclectic score equally has its impressive moments. Lisa Lambe thoroughly inhabits the folky voice of Fairy in a spellbinding turn on songs like ‘The One’ that almost transcend musical theatre. And Victoria Hamilton-Barritt proffers another of her iconic characters as Queenie, her ‘I Know What I Am’ a truly show-stopping moment that feels destined to be a cabaret classic. There’s so many strong elements at play here, you just wish that they were aligned with a story that felt worth (re-)telling.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Hex is booking at the National Theatre until 14th January 

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