Sleeping Beauty – 10 January 2020, Montgomery Theatre, Sheffield
Review by Callam Fellows
“It seems impossible that a Princess can sleep so soundly when there’s an audience full of families roaring with laughter at the jokes and sketches this show has to offer.
The fairytale setting is brought to life with a combination of scenery by UK Productions and projections by Accolade Productions. The projections were very impressive right from the start in the form of Disney-esque opening story book to introduce the story with the iconic line “Once Upon a Time”. From there they sprinkle the woods with magical sparkles, surround the castle with ever growing thorns, and even conjure a fearsome, flying, fire-breathing dragon.
The pyrotechnics and special effects used were truly magical, casting sparks from the fairies’ wands and showering the stage in pixie dust. I should note that during a scene change the stage crew, (who no doubt worked incredibly hard), should try to sweep up as much pixie dust as they can. The pixie dust appeared to have the magical ability of transforming the stage surface into an ice rink, proving to be quite slippery for a few characters. I did notice that they had a quick hoover around behind the front cloth during the interval.
The falling fairy dust would not have the same enchanting effect without some very talented lighting by Tom Dyson and and Sophie Marples for TD Lighting. Their lighting is skilled, vibrant and eye-catching.
The undisputed star of the show was Paul Burgess as Muddles. In real life he’s a Headteacher but in the world of panto he’s a class clown. He’s charmingly cheeky, finds the right balance between naughtiness and naivety, and builds up a great rapport with the audience.
A personal favourite of mine was the trio of Lock, Stock and Barrel played by Lee Phillips, Dan Schofield and Dave Froggatt, and their Sergeant, James Moore. Telling corny jokes and falling over each other, they work well off each other and have a great cartoonishness to them, displaying great physical comedy and a real feel of enjoyment for what they are doing.
I also enjoyed the character of Vera played by Anna Kozak. Outside of fairies and princesses, pantomimes don’t usually offer many interesting roles for women. Vera is full of character. She can be stern and strong, but also has a silly and mischievous side to her. Even if her jokes don’t make the audience laugh, the joy she exhibits from telling them is infectious.
Ann Mann was wonderfully wicked as the villainous Carabosse. Lynne Schofield was sweet and kind-hearted as Fairy Lilac, and her rendition of “A Thousand Years” in sign language was a lovely touch. Her fairy companions of Joy, Peace and Grace were played with bubbly confidence from Eve Rowles, Abby Phillips and Lucy Hayes. Alison Wade as the Prince and Hollie Riley as the Princess duet and are given a chance to show off their singing talents.
Whilst I’m aware that with most pantomimes the plot is secondary to the more comedic antics, here it feels especially apparent. It’s quite a long time before we finally get to meet the titular character. For a character who remains asleep for the majority of Act 2, it’s a shame that she remained absent for most of Act 1. I will say that when she does finally appear she has a lovely introduction, showing her as she grows up from a child to her 21st Birthday. Important aspects of the story, such as true love’s kiss breaking the curse, feel rushed whilst the rest of the show is padded out with comedy routines. The routines were very funny and entertaining, especially the Sergeant’s training, Muddles’s indestructible trumpet, and a fun-filled rendition of “If I Was Not Upon the Stage”. In a show jam-packed with routines, it does feel like it may run on a bit too long and not all of the jokes hit the mark. Wittier quips and exchanges were lost on an audience that find more enjoyment from trumping queens and men dressed as ballerinas falling over.
There is a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment in the form of Queen Wilhelmina’s lively feather boa. Just as quickly as the boa travels from one side of the stage to the other, the joke seemingly comes out of nowhere and is over quickly. The audience are encouraged to shout out when they see the boa zipping across the stage, but it was hardly visible from the stalls.
Some of the best moments of the night came in the form of what we’ve all come to expect from pantomime. Joseph Bairstow as the pantomime dame was at the centre of most of these moments, whether it was chucking out sweets far and wide for people to catch, or running through the audience from a giddy ghostie. These were the moments that brought the most excitement to the children in the audience, which in turn makes the parents happy. Another character that delighted members of all ages was Mooana the Cow, who I wish would have been utilised a bit more, but perhaps they were encouraged not to milk it.
Overall a very fun pantomime to see which skilfully honours traditional panto with timeless comedy routines whilst also welcoming the new and advanced age of technological special effects. If you go in to this show not knowing the lyrics to “Why Does a Red Cow Give White Milk”, you’ll certainly know them by the time you leave.”
Sleeping Beauty will be performed at the Montgomery Theatre until Saturday 18 January. For further information and to book visit https://themontgomery.org.uk.
The Wales Methodist Pantomime Players was formed in 1945 by Roy Staniforth MBE. In 2017 they formed a new group, Wales Community Theatre Players, combining the efforts of their two previous groups Wales Methodist Panto Players and Musical Theatre Company. They continue to perform this, their annual pantomime each January at the Montgomery Theatre and now sell out almost 4000 tickets over the run. For further information visit www.walesctp.com.