Kenneth MacMillan’s production of The Sleeping Beauty for Covent Garden was born not of conviction but of bureaucratic compromise and had little of the luxuriance of his previous staging for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. While MacMillan and the credited designer, Peter Farmer, were roundly condemned for it, the reality was that the 1973 production’s fate was sealed from the outset.
It replaced Peter Wright’s 1968 production, designed by Lila di Nobili, which was not popular with audiences in London or in America. The chosen designer, Beni Montresor, was not MacMillan’s choice, but that of the Covent Garden Management. Once sets and costumes were in the process of being made, it became increasingly clear that they were unsatisfactory – as Kenneth MacMillan told his wife Deborah, d “Even Walt Disney would have thought them over the top” – and Montresor’s designs were abandoned. With only six weeks before the first night, Peter Farmer was called in with formidable task of creating an alternative.
The critics’ reactions were inevitable. Farmer took most of the blame and there were also cavils at MacMillan’s imprints on the choreography. For Richard Buckle of The Sunday Times it was “a complete disaster”, “A fancy dress extravaganza and an upsetting evening”, Alexander Bland of The Observer complained. “The company got it on, but only just”, wrote Mary Clarke for Dancing Times. Clarke was the only critic to note the harshness of the press’s judgement on Peter Farmer. In the light of the reaction, The Royal Ballet did not, as intended, bring the production to the United States in the following year.