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“Passive female heroines are not healthy” Sleeping Beauty is a prince in panto tackling gender stereotypes

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Anna Pollitt
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Isn't it time fairytales had a modern makeover?

Children going to see Sleeping Beauty at the Old Vic in Bristol this Christmas will not be watching any pretty princesses being rescued from a 100 years of slumber by a handsome hero, instead, the sleepy victim of a poisoned spindle will be a man - Prince Percy.

The gender reversal is theatre director Sally Cookson's antidote to the absence of female heroines in the classic fairytales that are still beloved by today's youngsters.

“What we wanted was a proactive, feisty heroine,” she explains to The Guardian. “Many of these earlier versions were recorded by men, so had heroines who were really so passive it is just not healthy.”

“Our fairytale heroine is able to save herself and other people along the way,” she continues. “Both the hero and the heroine in our story can be vulnerable and brave. We don’t pigeonhole them, although our prince, Percy, has been rather pampered and protected.”

Prince Percy

Sleeping Beauty at the Bristol Old Vic

The gender swap has not been welcomed by everyone. Conservative MP Peter Bone brands the move “political correctness gone mad,” in The Sun, while Karen Sherr, founder of national pre-school theatre group Musical Minis, also questioned the gender reversal.

“Lot of little girls want to be princesses,” she says. “They just want to go to the pantomime to see a princess in a pretty dress.”

Sleeping beauty cast

Kezrena James plays Deilen, who saves Prince Percy (David Emmings) from a lifetime of sleep

Cookson, who has been widely praised for her modern adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre at the National Theatre in London, says if anyone is upset by the swap, it is most likely to be adults.

“I am sorry if there might be some children or, more likely, parents who think that is not how it is meant to be,” she says. “But every time a fairytale is retold we cannot help but adapt it in line with our ideology, regardless of whether that is a conscious plan.”

 

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Anna Pollitt

Anna is a freelance writer and editor who’s been making her dime from online since 2007. She’s a regular at Stylist.co.uk, ITV News and Emerald Street and moonlights as a copywriter and digital content consultant. The baby is borrowed.

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