Energetic cast finally wake up Sleeping Beauty

18 Dec 2012 @ 8.29 pm
| Entertainment

The cast of Sleeping Beauty. Back row, L-R: David Heath as Prince Valiant; Matt Dallen as Chester; Syd Little as King Egbert; Deena Payne as Carabosse. Front row, L-R:Amy Morris as Princess Beauty; Richard Stride as Queen Gertie; Carly Nickson as Fairy Sparkle. Photographs: Grand Opera House
Chris Titley and nine-year-old daughter Mia find out if Sleeping Beauty is a dream night out at the theatre


Review: Sleeping Beauty
Venue: Grand Opera House, York, December 17

Mia is something of a veteran of Grand Opera House pantos. She was here two Christmases ago for Cinderella, again starring Syd Little, so for her there was a touch of déja vù about the new show, Sleeping Beauty.

She recalled seeing the scene where the ghost scuttles up and down the stage to a chorus of “Behind Yous” in 2010, complete with the same musical refrain. And remembered too the knockabout version of Twelve Days Of Christmas, although she confessed that Syd was grumpier this time round.

That’s the thing with these shows. They are a kind of identikit panto. You’d see pretty much the same thing if you watched Cinderella in Torquay or Sleeping Beauty in York, both products of the same company.

Does this matter? To a certain extent. Much of the writing creaked like an arthritic Transformer, with no attempt to update jokes that a Poundland cracker would reject as too shoddy. And you couldn’t miss the lines which, in the original script, contained the words: “Insert local place name here.” The good folk of Happyland fell asleep for 100 years, “which is a long time if you’re waiting for a bus in Pocklington”. What?

But then panto is all about tradition. And if people like it, why change anything?

And they did like it, eventually. The pedestrian writing and half-length, half-hearted songs failed to rouse a Monday evening audience into much beyond a titter in the first half. When it ended with all on stage a-slumber, the audience might have responded in kind, without the lure of interval booze and Twirl Bites to rouse us from our seats.

Not to be trifled with: Richard Stride as Queen Gertie

The second half was something else entirely. Matt Dallen who, as Chester The Jester, performed heroics on stage in Act I to keep the thing moving, came into his own. Easily the star of the show, he was allowed to ad lib and mug to hilarious effect.

I don’t know whether the aforementioned Twelve Days Of Christmas routine brought the house down two years ago, but it did this time. Syd’s huff, some simple but well-executed slapstick, and the flinging of five toilet rolls into the audience by Chester lifted the roof off the place. And the way Matt caught the last of the returned loo rolls one-handed without missing a beat – well, Joe Hart look out.

Emmerdale’s Deena Payne came into her element as Carabosse, the wicked fairy with the arpeggio fingers and loony tunes eyes. Richard Stride manned up as Queen Gertie, the dame cursed not by fairy magic but by some woeful lines, and gained a deserved cheer at the end through presence and willpower.

Carly Nickson was a very loveable Fairy Sparkle, and Amy Morris was the sort of beautiful princess Mia used to dream of becoming before she discovered Moshi Monsters.

The child performers deserve praise too: they danced with poise and charm, and made for the cutest teddy bears imaginable. And get the musical director Chris Hocking his own bag of Twirl Bites – to conjure up everything from Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds to Lady Gaga is a virtuoso feat by any standards.

In the end, the almost wilful lack of originality was pretty much overcome by a bright and energetic cast. Well done them.