Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 11th December, 2018
Second panto of the season for me and my second Sleeping Beauty. This extravaganza in Wolverhampton’s beautiful Grand Theatre hits all the high notes, with their most consistently excellent pantomime production in years.
Debbie McGee kicks things off with a Grand entrance as the Lovely Fairy Crystal. It’s not long before she’s demonstrating her hoofing skills. Strictly between us, she’s still a fantastic mover, even if she is prone to a spot of corpsing in her dialogue scenes – actually, this adds to the fun. As her evil counterpart, the wicked fairy Carabosse, Julie Paton is hugely enjoyable; it’s not until the second act that we get her finest moment, a lyrically-adapted rendition of I Will Survive. Paton also choreographs the show, the customary blend of fairy-tale costumes and contemporary dance.
Ian Adams returns to Wolverhampton on double duty, as director and as a deliciously camp dame, Queen Wilhelmina (Call me Willy!) Adams is clearly in his element here, bringing drag queen elegance. The innuendo levels sky-rocket whenever he is on. Also back is Doreen Tipton, as hilariously dreary Nurse Doreen, bringing a very local flavour to proceedings and also some of the rudest remarks.
Bethan-Wyn Davies is an appealing Princess Beauty, looking like she’s dropped out of a Disney movie, and singing like a pop princess. Her love interest is Prince Harry, played by the delightful Oliver Ormson, handsome, funny and with the voice of an angel, he is the perfect panto prince.
The big draw for me though is the casting of Sooty. As himself. There is so much love for the little golden bear with black ears, and I’m pleased to see it’s not just me. The older members of the audience revel in the nostalgia while the younger ones are delighted by his mischievous antics perhaps for the first time. Of course, you can’t have Sooty without Sweep, who treats us to a rendition of Nessun Dorma like no other. It’s a surreal moment. Part of you knows it’s a hand in a glove squeezing a squeaker, but another part of you overrules it and you find yourself urging him on. Go on, Sweep, give it some welly!
Accompanying the puppets is Richard Cadell. More than Sooty’s handler, he is a splendid comic performer in his own right and also a fine stage magician. The show has some amazing set pieces, magic tricks on the small and the large scale. Cadell is irrepressibly funny, a true showman.
With musical director Kelvin Towse in charge of a tight ensemble, a troupe of talented dancers (who are perhaps a little underused) and a smattering of ‘babes’ from the Classic Academy of Dance, this is a high-quality show that really does have something for everyone. Production values are impressive (apart from a naff helicopter) and while the kids revel in the slapstick, the grown-ups are tickled by the risqué jokes. There are traditional routines, spectacular effects, and above all a whole lot of fun.