Book by Tanya Ronder, music by Jim Fortune, lyrics by Rufus Norris, original concept by Katrina Lindsay and Rufus Norris
National Theatre
National Theatre (Olivier Theatre)

Neïma Naouri as Queen Regina and Kody Mortimer as King, both front right, with cast of Hex Credit: Johan Persson
Lisa Lambe as Fairy and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Queenie Credit: Johan Persson
Lisa Lambe as Fairy, Rosie Graham as Princess Rose and Michael Elcock as Prince Bert Credit: Johan Persson
Michael Elcock as Prince Bert (centre) and Ensemble Credit: Johan Persson
Michael Elcock as Prince Bert and Ensemble as Princes Credit: Johan Persson
Michael Matus as Smith and Lisa Lambe as Fairy Credit: Johan Persson
Rosie Graham as Princess Rose and Ensemble as Princes Credit: Johan Persson

Hex, the National Theatre’s Christmas show, which at last gets a proper opening after a year of delay due to COVID, is a version of The Sleeping Beauty. It takes the traditional element of a princess sleeping under a spell that can only be broken by a prince’s kiss, but it is the wild-haired, slightly scruffy fairy who casts that hex who is at the heart of this dark version along with a people-eating ogre queen and her half-human son Bert who is Princess Rose’s prince.

It begins with a high, soaring solo voice to which elements are added to develop into a lush score offering more than twenty numbers that range from operatic to rap and come thick and fast (too fast to catch some of their lively lyrics) providing plenty of opportunities to break into dance—even the fatal thorns who keep princes away from the princess have a sparkling routine.

Three High Fairies who descend from the clouds are looking for things to bless, but they are very snooty to Lisa Lambe’s wingless Fairy. The High ones have disappeared by the time Queen Regina’s messenger turns up looking for a fairy to bless her new royal baby. He nearly gets eaten by an ogre, but is rescued by Fairy who takes her back to the palace, which is a Disney-like castle of shimmering lights high in the sky. Queen Regina is then so rude when Fairy can’t stop Princess Rose’s howling that Fairy loses her temper and casts the hex. But that is only the beginning of the story, for after casting a hex, fairies lose their magic. How can Fairy now make things work out right?

Fairy has her heart in the right place and Lisa Lambe has the audience on her side—she can hold the house; Rosie Graham and Michael Elcock make an attractive young couple as Princess Rose and Bert, who is protected from the thorns by his ogre blood, though he has to be told, “put your lips to hers. That’s the mortal way.” Neil Nouri and Kody Mortimer might have come out of Alice in Wonderland as the tempered Queen and her husband and Michael Matus is court official Smith and his descendant Smith-Smith, but it is Victoria Hamilton-Barrett who very nearly steals the show as ogre Queenie, and a high point is when Fairy confronts her to stop her from eating her son. It is a very strong cast right through, all with good voices and taking Jade Hackett’s choreography easily in their stride.

Fairytales always have something to tell us. “Be who you are not what you are”, true to yourself not to what what other people type you. That seems to be Hex’s, but its theatricality and its vitality are what makes it so engaging. It is a dark Christmas treat for youngsters who aren’t dreaming of being a princess. I really liked it.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

Are you sure?