This delightful take on Sleeping Beauty is very much a traditional family show, free from innuendo and spiced with up tempo songs and references to the shops and pubs of “Woolly” Barnes.
Dammit, there is even a good joke about Brexit.
Among the cast of 16, there are strong comic performances from Alexa Bushell as Billy, ‘Dame’ Rodger Hayward Smith as Queen Dorothy and a lovable but virtually line-less Annie Collenette as Kitty the cat. In the thankless roles of the romantic leads, Francesca Stone and Steve Bannell are excellent, especially in their Act 1 duet. And on the side of right, Marie Bushell is charming as Fairy Peaceful while her fairy chorus, Symeon Wade and Andrew Rapley, channel Dana International and the late Charles Hawtrey.
But, as always with pantomime, it is the villains that get the best lines. Jill Turetzky is scary in a good way as the bad fairy Carabosse, while Julie Smith is outstanding as the fairy’s capering cat-sidekick Spindleshanks, sometimes sultry sometimes sulky and deservedly getting the biggest laughs of the evening with nothing more than a miaow. The production is directed well with Symeon Wade and Francesca Stone making good use of the stage as well as a narrow thrust which serves variously as tower steps, a castle drawbridge and the aisle for … spoiler … the wedding that concludes the show.
There are also some entertaining set pieces, including a raucous singalong, a slop scene that turns out to be less about slop and more about … but that would be spoiling things - and a duet in Act 2 where Princess Aurora is accompanied by … well, again that would be a spoiler. A word too for the fairy-tale backdrop of cloud-capped mountains and the many painted flats and curtains that conjure up the multiple sets used for this production, including the throne room, ivied castle walls and a turret, complete - of course - with a lethal spinning wheel.
There are however aspects of the show that require attention. Some scene changes were slow while a few curtain, lighting and sound cues were late, and the sound balance on the songs was sometimes a little off so that the actors had to compete with the original vocalists. The shortness of the sledge on which the princess’s body is conveyed after the inevitable incident with a spindle conjured up a pelvic exam rather than spellbound sleep; and there were a few occasions when the cast might have picked up on the audience’s desire to join in and, rather than get on with the lines as written, ad lib in response to a cry of “Oh yes, it is …” or a boo or a hiss.
Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, good pantomime is very hard to do well. Happily, from this, their latest Christmas offering, it is clear that, as the company nears the end of its second decade, Barnes Community Players is in good hands.
Playing till 1 December.