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Greater London
posted/updated: 24 Jan 2016 -
Sleeping Beauty - A family pantomime.
Written by Warren McWilliams
society/company: St. Monica's Players (directory)
performance date: 23 Jan 2016
venue: Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green and Millfield Theatre
reviewer/s: Chris Abbott (Sardines review)

Amateur pantomime is at its best when it is rooted in the local community, offers opportunities to a wide range of performers and makes the best of them rather than exposing their weaknesses. It is at its worst if it becomes self-indulgent, self-referential and with the same performers getting all the best parts. I am pleased to say that Saint Monica’s Players in Sleeping Beauty at the Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green showed amateur pantomime at its best and avoided all the pitfalls – except perhaps that of length, since almost three hours is too long for any pantomime, especially one where the audience seating is at church hall levels of discomfort. It was also disappointing to have to wait outside on a cold day till 25 minutes before the performance began and the doors opened. These minor quibbles aside, this was a confident and lively production benefitting from a script well-suited to a large cast – and well done, too, for including signed performances. The script was written, as is usually for SMP, by Warren McWilliams and directed by Christopher O’Shea in a successful debut in the role. Choreographer Fay Kemal created some effective routines, especially the last two full stage numbers in Act 2. Sleeping Beauty is a difficult story to adapt to pantomime format, as many have learnt to their cost, with the hundred years between the first and second half causing problems, not to mention the need for a whole new set of costumes. SMP neatly avoided all of this by having their palace staff go to sleep for a much shorter time, and the forest of thorns grew and was cut down again in a matter of moments. Despite these changes, the main storyline was clear and served as a good background for a script which favoured the comic characters in any case. Leading the cast was scriptwriter Warren McWilliams as Nurse Nelly, his confidence and effectiveness in the part being evident to all although it was his first time playing Dame. It was a shame, however, that he appeared first with the ensemble, rather than having his own solo entrance. He delivered his own script with confidence and helped to get the best out of those around him, including a lively performance from Michael Lacey as Presto. It was good to see some traditional crossover gags (although perhaps too many of them) and to see the silent hat routine as well as the more usual ghost bench. With several strong comic actors in the cast, those playing King, Queen, Aurora and the Prince inevitably made less of a mark as they filled in the story. Haydn Boxall sang well as Rupert although seemed slightly less comfortable with the spoken parts of his role. Ellie Ashby was an effective Aurora. The three good fairies were well characterised by script and performance, with Marian Lynch’s Merriweather particularly effective in the hands of this confident performer. David Bowman’s rather mannered performance as Sampson was impossible to miss and Kate Russell snarled effectively as Malevolent. The highlights for many in the audience – especially the small boy behind me – were the appearances of Boggers and Sniffles, well played by Luke Clow and the excellent Sasha Newton whose performance was for me the highlight of the production – entirely in the spirit of pantomime, wholly committed and giving 100% at all time. The songsheet went well and Warren McWilliams works well with the children called on stage, but it was a shame to see him in his walk-down costume at that point. Everyone else appeared in a costume change at the finale, mostly in purple and green, so it was disappointing not to see the Dame also revealed in one more outrageous costume at the end. The show was well-lit and the moving lights were effective – although not so effective that they needed to be used quite so often, and it was unfortunate that they were so visible on stage. The five piece band was led by SMP regular Mike Benyon, and Joanna McWilliams contributed extra vocals from the pit, a ploy that many other groups should consider as it seemed to work well. Warren McWilliams knows how to write a pantomime for a large cast, his scripts are available from Lazy Bee, and I would recommend a visit to Palmers Green to see how they can be brought to life by this spirited and talented group.

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