Tag Archives: Sleeping Beauty

Finger-Prickin’ Good

SLEEPING BEAUTY

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.

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Oliver Ormson and Bethan-Wyn Davies as Harry and Meghan – sorry, Beauty (Photo: Tim Thursfield, Express & Star)

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.

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Richard Cadell as Muddles and Sooty as himself (Photo; Tim Thursfield, Express & Star)

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.

Magic.

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Woke!

SLEEPING BEAUTY

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 23rd November, 2018

 

No matter how beautiful you are, there’s no danger of dozing off during this year’s festive offering at the Belgrade.  As usual, it’s written and directed by the mighty Iain Lauchlan, who also appears as amiable dame, Nanny Fanny McWheeze, this is a cavalcade of fun, showing off Lauchlan’s mastery of the form, his skills as a performer, and crucially, his innovations.  For example, the traditional slosh scene (icing a cake) is set-up brilliantly, involving an Alexa-type device (a Scottish version named Morag!) who reels off the instructions of how to play the sport curling, which the cast mistake for cake-decorating tips.  Add to the mix, a hapless member of the audience who is game for a laugh, and this extended slapstick scene builds superbly.  Genius!

Also returning is Lauchlan’s regular stage partner, the hilarious Craig Hollingsworth.  This year he’s Muddles the Jester, and he’s as irritable as Nanny Fanny is amiable.  Hollingsworth’s short temper and long-suffering stance are the perfect foil for Lauchlan’s kindnesses, and also for the more saccharine elements of the story.  If this partnership ever splits, the Belgrade will probably crumble.

In the title role, Melissa Brown-Taylor is a plucky Princess Belle, while Joanna Thorne’s Prince Valiant is leggy and heroic as a principal boy should be; (it seems contemporary theatre is catching up with the gender-swapping that has been a staple of pantomime all along!).  Declan Wilson is a cuddly King Hugo, with Vicky Field making an impression as his ill-tempered, ill-fated Queen.  Field soon reappears as Grunge, sidekick to the evil fairy in an enjoyable portrayal.  Anna Mitcham’s good fairy Azurial is, in her own words, ‘perky’, assisted by a troupe of youngsters as her fairy assistants.  But it is Laura Judge’s villainous Carabosse who almost steals the show.  Bitterly melodramatic, Judge’s high-camp performance is a treat.

There is spectacle, of course: watch out for a dragon (it’d be hard to miss!) and a lively ensemble in beautiful story-book costumes by Terry Parsons.  Jenny Phillips’s choreography gets its big moment in the Act Two opener.  The original songs (by Lauchlan, Liz Kitchen and Steve Etherington) aren’t bad, each one serving its purpose and played by a tight combo under the able baton of Dan Griffin.  There are well-worn routines given a new spin, and up-to-date topical references.

The overall feel is trad meets new, and like the Prince and Princess, it’s a perfect match.

Iain Lauchlan & Craig Hollingsworth as Nanny McWheeze & Muddles - photo credit Robert Day

Something’s come between us! Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth perform a spot of high culture (Photo: Robert Day)


Muddling Through

SLEEPING BEAUTY

New Theatre, Cardiff, Sunday 20th January, 2013

There is a generation of panto stalwarts among the entertainers of this country that is guaranteed to bring in the crowds; big names who attract a lot of business to local theatres and who have been playing the circuit for years and doing it very well, thank you.  Unfortunately, they are no longer eligible for the title roles – too old to be a dashing Prince or a pretty Princess, they take on the supporting character roles: the villain’s henchman, the comic turn…  And so we get some rather curiously skewed versions of the traditional tales in order to make the most of the star billing.  This is reflected in the promotional material.

Thus this production of Sleeping Beauty has posters of its star Joe Pasquale, and Joe Pasquale alone.  You don’t have to read much further to realise he’s not in the title role.

The performance I attended – the penultimate, as it turned out – featured Blue Peter’s Barney Harwood, deputising for Pasquale who  has been spending his Sundays dancing on ice (or trying to).  I selected this particular performance with care, having seen Pasquale before…

Barney Harwood is “Muddles” the court jester – a character who is really Buttons by another name.  He performs exactly the same function as Buttons in Cinderella (some scenes are direct lifts from that show!) – with added emphasis because it’s now the star part.  This turned out to be a good thing; you get a lot of Barney Harwood for your money.  He has a laidback performance style, which means he can throw away lines, but he is also able to crank up the silliness.  Obviously he’s delivering Pasquale lines and mucking around with Pasquale props, but Harwood’s comparative youth and good looks help him to put across the corniest and most puerile of gags.  When he bows his head in pathos, broken-hearted over his unrequited love for the Princess, it’s touching (in a panto kind of way).  Harwood is also possessed of a very pleasant pop-singing voice but rest assured we are never far away from yet another fart joke.

He is supported by the remarkable Ceri Dupree, the most glamorous Dame, as Queen Passionella , whose outfits go for exaggerated Las Vegas showgirl glamour rather than the out-and-out silliness of other dames in other shows.  With more ostrich feathers than a David Attenborough series about the Life of Ostriches, and a largely deadpan delivery, this Queen is an imposing figure, dishing out the double entendres for the grown-ups.  Her entrance (and I use the term carefully) involves a stirring rendition of “It’s Raining Men” – which brings me to another point I’d like to make about the modern pantomime.

Some pantos include original songs.  Regardless of the quality of these, I always think this is a mistake.  For me a key ingredient of pantomime is the barely-relevant but recognisable popular song.  These are as important as the topical jokes and the references to local places.  The audience knows where it is with a well-known song.  This show opens with not one but two original numbers and so it’s a while before we’re on familiar ground and are invited to take part in the performance.  It’s more like watching the opening of a new musical than an icebreaker to kick-start a panto.

That said, Lucy Williamson (evil Carabosse) and Shona White (benevolent Enchantress) are in excellent voice in duets that are more like duels – although I think Evil wins out in the costume stakes.  Williamson clearly relishes her part and handles hecklers mercilessly.

Lucy Evans is a likeable Princess Beauty, upstaged by her very handsome Prince (Alexis Gerred) who sends up the dashing hero, with cape-swishing and thigh-slapping a-plenty.  He and Harwood share some hilarious moments involving powdered custard.  I also enjoyed Michael Peluso as Carabosse’s hunchbacked son and henchman.  He was underused, I thought.

There is not one but two 3D sequences, with insects and spiders launching themselves into the screaming faces of the audience.  Good fun but I was disappointed by the moment the Prince awakens Beauty with a kiss.  Director Jonny Bowles could have made more of that pivotal scene.  In this one, she sits up straight away and that’s that.

The show is ultimately Harwood’s.  His boyish energy and cheeky charm win everyone over.  Considering he had something like four days to learn the part, he muddles through excellently.  I made the right choice.

Cardiff-Sleeping_Beauty_2012-2013

 See what I mean?


You Beauty

SLEEPING BEAUTY
The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 7th December, 2011


Birmingham Rep’s Christmas show this year is an enormous improvement on their recent yuletide offerings. Last year’s joyless Secret Garden, for example, was an abject lesson in how not to do a festive show.

Rufus Norris’s adaptation of the Charles Perrault fairy tale is high on charm, heavy on the fart jokes and not afraid to be scary and gruesome when the story requires it. The acting style is broad but not without subtlety: the characters (archetypes rather than stereotypes) are presented as overgrown children; they stamp their feet, they sulk, they see the world as if it is revolves around them. This is a refreshing alternative to the stylisation of traditional pantomime.

Driving the story as protagonist-cum-antagonist-cum-narrator is Fairy Goody (Jenna Augen) who has the unfortunate affliction, whenever she casts a spell, of letting rip exaggerated blasts of flatulence. It is a running joke that is not overdone – in fact, as in-your-face and as loud and as brash as this production is, it never outstays its welcome and remains entertaining and surprising right until the end. The parties of school children that attended the same matinee as me were certainly enthralled, captivated and amused from start to finish – what better mark of quality could you hope for in a children-focussed show? There are also plenty of jokes for the grown-ups to appreciate. Everything is pitched exactly right.

The long-anticipated kiss-the-Princess-awake scene is handled with humour and originality, with the Prince (Ciaran Owens) displaying that beneath his heroic posturing and swagger he is still a boy with an immature aversion to girls. But there is no happy-ever-after, not just yet at any rate. This is only the end of the first act. When the action resumes, a few years have passed and Beauty and her Prince now have two puppet children. They are in peril from the Prince’s mother, a cannibalistic Queen (Moyo Akande) who is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. There are grisly scenes involving a donkey, a goat and a pussycat but these are handled with such verve and gusto, the audience is swept along. The Queen reveals herself to be an Ogress and the Prince a half-breed. Beauty baulks at this at first but promises that if he should ever bite her, she will bite him back only harder. No wilting lily, she.

The whole company is strong. When they’re not being courtiers, slaves or animals, they form a chorus of woodland sprites who mimic the last words of each line of dialogue in that annoying way that kids do. These sprites form the wall of thorns that surrounds the castle but they also provide musical accompaniment and sound effects, on strings, brass and percussion. The whole things ties together very well. Director Sarah Esdaile keeps the pace cracking along – there are a couple of slides on either side of the proscenium via which characters make speedy entrances (and in this case, unlike the RSC’s Heart of Robin Hood, does not become tiresome)

A huge wheel hangs over all, the spinning wheel that fulfils the fairy’s curse and also the wheel of life or fortune. For all its fairy tale fun, the play makes no bones about its darker message: that love and life don’t last for long so get on with it.