IT'S the ultimate mother-in-law story. The lady, whom we know to be an ogress with a gourmand's love of human flesh, first devours what she thinks are her grandchildren. Next, she sniffs hungrily at her daughter-in-law's neck, orders the girl's heart to be cooked forthwith, then noisily munches, grunts and slurps her way through what's actually a hastily substituted, quickly grilled cat.
That's not Sleeping Beauty as Disney saw it or as I remember it from Mother Goose, whom the adaptor-director Rufus Norris cites as his source; but it's in the tradition of Grimm Tales and the other Christmas productions the Young Vic staged in the 1990s. I wouldn't recommend it to squeamish adults or vegetarians of any age, but the children near me, some of them very young, didn't look in danger of bad dreams, let alone lasting trauma.
How did Norris and his versatile ten-person cast arrive at this stomach turning climax? Well, this time the Bad Fairy is a Highly Ambivalent Fairy, a tattered, troubled creature oddly called Goody. When the snobbish queen she's made pregnant refuses to invite her to the christening, on the grounds that she farts too much, she delivers the familiar curse on the infant Beauty -and, though she instantly regrets that deed, she can't stop folklore taking its course.
All this is re-enacted by Helena Lymbery's repentant Goody and assorted churls, bumpkins and Struwwelpeter-style freaks for the benefit of a prince (Paul Ewing) who turns out to be too feeble to revive Danielle King's lissome Beauty; and there were moments when I wondered if a hint of political correctness wasn't entering the plot. But the arrival of a scary ogre, in Christopher Brand's roaring performance a sort of skinhead Yeti, was reassuring.
So was the appearance of James Loye's much more macho Prince, who strutted, swaggered, yelled "Let's go hunting!" in Countryside Alliance style -and, despite his shyness with girls, went through with the mandatory kissing, awaking and marrying.
Norris's production can't be faulted for fun or inventiveness, thanks to his resourceful use of a circular drum-stage through whose myriad trap-doors peep thorny arms, heads sprouting moss, and ghoulish effects galore; but it is, let's agree, genetically baffling, especially in the second half.
The prince, you see, is half-human, half-monster, fruit of a union between Daniel Cerqueira's drag-queen ogress and the unnamed gentleman his mother has eaten. For Beauty, as for us, he's a hero -and, well, a bit of a worry. Work out the symbolism for yourselves.
Last night, I myself was too caught up in the fizz and the flow to worry about that. This year the Young Vic is in refreshingly robust form -and its audiences are in luck.