Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

Sleeping Beauty

By Rufus Norris
From The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods by Charles Perrault

Festival Theatre
Family Friendly
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Bursting with talent, huge on imagination and visually stunning

Chichester Observer

A breathtaking triumph

Worthing Herald

The icing on the Christmas cake

Portsmouth News

Dark, mysterious and magical


A princess under a fairy’s curse pricks her finger on a spindle and sleeps for a hundred years, waiting to be woken by a prince’s kiss.

But hold on a moment. There’s a distinctly different slant to this story. The princess is beautiful and spirited but there are two princes and a lot of threatening thorns. As for the fairy who caused all the trouble in the first place – well, putting things right isn’t as simple as casting another spell.

Rufus Norris’s splendidly entertaining and mischievous version of the original fairy tale ventures beyond the usual ‘happy ever after’ ending with the prince and princess united. The course of true love never did run smooth – especially if your mother-in-law is an ogress with an unfortunate taste for human flesh...

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre are renowned for their wonderfully imaginative productions. They follow their five-star versions of Grimm Tales and Beauty and the Beast with a Sleeping Beauty that will keep you wide awake!

Rufus Norris’s version of Sleeping Beauty premiered at the Young Vic (2002). He is Director of the National Theatre.

Director Lucy Betts, formerly Head of Performance at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre where her many productions included The Wizard of Oz and Oliver!, directs a visually stunning production with set design by Simon Higlett, imaginative costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight and new music by Tom Brady

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Prologue tickets available now!


Truly incredible

Chichester Post

They promised Sleeping Beauty with a twist, and they certainly deliver it, a production bursting with talent, huge on imagination and visually stunning at every turn. Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes are superb; Simon Higlett’s set is perfect; and the cast do the rest to weave their own kind of magic.

Chichester Observer

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre has set extremely high standards with previous productions and once again they have raised the bar. It is becoming more difficult to think up new superlatives. The decision to use Rufus Norris's adaptation of the original fairy story is a masterstroke. As usual this annual extravaganza is a wonderful lead in to the Christmas festivities.

Brighton Argus

This uproarious version of the timeless classic has been wonderfully, and successfully, re-shaped by Rufus Norris and the measure of this particular production, expertly directed by Lucy Betts, can be gauged by the enthralled audience at Chichester Festival Theatre last night. A truly mesmeric Christmas production terrifically enhanced by the set design by Simon Higlett, and imaginative costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight as well as new music by Tom Brady.

Chichester News

The annual youth theatre production in the main house is not merely a seasonal event but one of the most highly anticipated moment’s in the theatre’s calendar. From the magnificence of the set and the costumes to the sheer excellence of the performance this is a breathtaking triumph. A production to which all other youth theatres can only aspire.

Worthing Herald

Tom Brady’s score is beautiful and extremely well-sung by the young cast; the different vocal-lines are well-held, well-supported and bell-clear.

Portsmouth News

Cast & Creatives

Creative Team

Cast List

Lucy Betts


Simon Higlett

Set Designer

Ryan Dawson Laight

Costume Designer

James Whiteside

Lighting Designer

Tom Brady


Colin Billing

Musical Director

Gregory Clarke

Sound Designer

Naomi Said

Movement Director



In conversation with Rufus Norris

It’s completely brilliant that the Youth Theatre in Chichester are given this opportunity - I can’t wait to see it.

Rufus Norris

Rufus Norris based his version of Sleeping Beauty on the French tale The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods, written by Charles Perrault in 1696. We met Rufus at the National Theatre, where he is now Director, to recall why he wrote this version and discuss the importance of Youth Theatre.

You originally wrote this version of Sleeping Beauty for the Young Vic – how did it come about?

There was a great tradition for a while, at the Young Vic, of very successful Christmas family shows that were not panto; they were more storytelling versions of that tradition. In 1994 when I was running a fringe venue in Paddington, we’d done a show called ‘Waking Beauty’ based on the original Charles Perrault fairytale by a writer called Deirdre Strath. When David Lan, the Artistic Director of the Young Vic, asked me to come up with an idea for a Christmas show, I revisited the idea of Sleeping Beauty and decided that I wanted to write it myself. We did it in 2002, then again in 2004 when we also took it to America.

Most people only know the Disney version of the story; how does this one differ?

What Disney did with Sleeping Beauty is to take just the first section of the story: Beauty is cursed by a fairy and falls asleep, and she wakes up with the kiss of a prince. It’s romantic, it plays into the mores of the Victorian era – what women should aspire to is to be pretty and wait patiently for the man to come along and treat them like a princess for the rest of their lives. Even in 1994 or in 2002, that obviously wasn’t going to be enough.

Most of these stories weren’t fairy stories originally, they were folk stories. And they have incredibly long roots, so you’ll find versions of them in Grimm, or in Perrault, but most go further back. In the Charles Perrault version, Beauty is woken by a Prince who happens to be half ogre, and his mother is an ogress pretending to be a human; so she wants to eat their children. So Beauty is thrust into this terrible nightmare and is really only saved again by her husband, the prince. The challenge for me was to link these two halves -  because the only person who is in both is Beauty and she’s asleep for a lot of the first half.  What I managed to do was to link the two halves by making the central character Goody, the fairy.

Your adaptation is so multi-layered, appealing equally to adults and children – how did you balance that out?

It’s got to be funny. The great thing about doing family shows is that if the audience are bored, they switch off and then you, as a theatremaker, have to change what you’re doing. The two children in the story are called Rose and Hector; Rose is based on Briar Rose which is the original name of Sleeping Beauty in the Perrault tale, and Hector was my son who had just been born when we opened the show in 2002. In the song ‘Just say No’, the lyrics all rhyme with ‘ation’; one of them, ‘a demonic incantation’ was suggested by my then 5 year old, who got very cross with me because there were other lyrics like ‘Never get lost at Ealing Broadway station’ which he insisted I put into the show, which I didn’t! The point is, I was surrounded by the audience at home. I guess I knew what made them bored and what they found funny.

A lot of the writing, the spells and the songs, is beautifully lyrical and poetic.

‘Henbane and monkshed’ and all that. My father was a medieval historian in terms of his deep passion so I grew up with it. ‘Oh ye oh ye oh ye who walk this hall…the worm shall eat you all’ – it’s almost lifted from medieval writings you can see around the place. If you go to an old town – there’ll be one in Chichester – you’ll find a little rhyming couplet on a gravestone or in a church – this kind of macabre wit is part of our history and our English sense of humour as well. Get your herbal almanac out and the lyrics just start shouting at you. ‘Henbane’. What a word!

You famously started your career at the Swan Youth Theatre in Worcester. How important is youth theatre now, at a time when arts education in schools is under threat?

For some children, knowledge-based learning, as it’s described, or theory being not only paramount but the only way to study, is useful. But practice, for me, is every inch as important as theory. I think for a lot of people it’s much more important. And our arts and education policy at the moment is to take practice out wherever possible. Creative self-expression or the confidence that comes with it, the community you build through it, the shared discipline, the interdependency, are incredible life skills. This country, now more than ever, has depended on initiative and creativity to give us an edge in the world. So anything that supports that is great.

For me, the Swan Youth Theatre in Worcester was a great social centre but because of the quality of direction and leadership, they insisted on us taking the work seriously. And what we got out of it as a result was a huge amount of self-confidence and also a real knowledge of what it is to rely on other people and how much more powerful shared achievement is. A flock of geese fly 70% further than individual geese, that’s just a fact. I came from an artistic family and a happy family; so I was already given a foundation which a lot of people don’t have, which I’m eternally grateful for. But the Youth Theatre for me, and all of the people I was there with, absolutely cemented that. For those that didn’t have that, it really gave them community and confidence in a way that I can’t over-express.

It’s completely brilliant that the Youth Theatre in Chichester are given this opportunity – it’s sort of amazing that you say, if we empower you enough to do the show for a much longer run than you would normally get, we’re going to charge people proper tickets and we’re going to advertise it like it’s effectively coming out of the professional company – all of that will leave the young people  taller than they go into it. And even if none of them go into the theatre as a career, or even go to the theatre again, it doesn’t matter because their ability to deal with the obstacles life throws at them, or to think their way out of a box, or to know that pressure sometimes helps you to perform at your best, to know when to ask for help – those things are invaluable. I couldn’t be more delighted that this group is doing the show and I can’t wait to see it.

Sleeping Beauty runs in the Festival Theatre from 15 - 30 December and tickets are available from £10. Suitable for ages 7+ 

Q&A with Lucy Betts

Every year the Festival Theatre stage is handed over to our award-winning Chichester Festival Youth Theatre for the Christmas production. This year’s production of Sleeping Beauty is directed by Lucy Betts, who was herself a member of CFYT from the age of 7 until she was 20. The adaptation of the original fairytale that the youth theatre are tackling for this year's festive production was written by Rufus Norris, now Artistic Director of the National Theatre, who also started out his career as a member of his local Youth Theatre. 

We caught up with Lucy to find out a little more about the production, which opens on 15 December, and about the importance of youth theatres to children up and down the country.

How did you come to be involved in this production and how has the process been so far?

I had a call in February from CFT saying there was an availability for a director. I was so lucky in that it’s a wonderful script and very much my style – it’s completely bonkers!

It's a long process, we began rehearsals in September, but it's just how it works with Youth Theatre because of school and college; and actually for the young people it's great because it gives them more time for ideas, blocking and creative things to settle in the mind. It's also quite challenging because you might do something in September and not revisit it for a few weeks. But what's amazing is they are so keen and confident; they know exactly what they are doing. 

What are the CFYT company like?

They are just the most incredibly focused, creative and passionate young people. They work really hard, they are so committed to what they do and so aware of how lucky they are to have this opportunity – not only to be in the show in the first place, but to be in a show at Chichester Festival Theatre and they don’t take it for granted.

What makes this version of Sleeping Beauty special?

It’s just nuts, I love it! It’s based on the original French fairy tale so there are elements that are the same: there’s Beauty who is asleep, there’s a prince who kisses her to wake her up; but there are twists and turns along the way, so it’s not always what you expect. It really keeps the audience on their toes. What’s lovely is that because it’s so silly and funny, the poignant moments really strike a chord.

What can we expect from the costumes and set?

I’m so lucky to be working with Simon Higlett and Ryan Dawson Laight; they are so creative. They totally get what I’m trying to do with the play; it’s as though they’ve reached into my head and taken the images out and made them better. The set is totally different to any Youth Theatre set we’ve ever had – there are a few surprises! The same with the costumes; Ryan is really pushing the it to the limit of the concept we’ve come up with and it’s so inspirational.

Having been a member of CFYT yourself, why do you think it's so important for children and young people to have opportunities to take part in youth theatre?

I was in the Youth Theatre - I joined when I was about 7, and was a member until I was 20. I grew up with it. My best friends are from the Youth Theatre and some of them work at CFT. 

Directing the youth theatre I was once a part of is a strange feeling like coming home. Even though the Youth Theatre is huge now and the building has really changed, the ethos is still the same – faith in those young people and expecting amazing things of them, enabling them to be creative.They really believe in what they're doing, they're there to tell stories with like-minded people. It wouldn't be the same show without their creativity, input and ideas, and their willingness to go on this massive journey. For me that's what is really special about Youth Theatre and why it's so important. 

Sleeping Beauty runs in the Festival Theatre from 15 - 30 December and tickets are available from £10. Suitable for ages 7+ and there is a relaxed performance on Sunday 30 December for any individuals or families with children on the autism spectrum, with sensory and communication disorders, or who simply would feel more comfortable in a relaxed theatre environment.


Age Guidance 
Age 7+
Running Time
2 hours including an interval