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Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

With three of this season’s magnificent seven pantomime reviews from me now covered, I think I can safely state that panto ultimately works at its best when specifically written for younger children while serving up an extra something for the parents, grandparents and carers. At Tunbridge Wells’ Assembly Hall Theatre this year, UK Productions has served up the ultimate in family entertainment with its current production of Sleeping Beauty.

With a witty and original script from Andrew Ryan and directed by the venue’s own Theatre Director, John-Jackson Almond, Martin Dodd’s production company concentrates hard on highlighting the plotline of the fairy tale throughout to keep the children on the edges of their seats. To do this, musical star, Claire Sweeney, makes a beautifully vampish evil fairy, Carabosse, as she goads the Assembly Hall Theatre’s packed audiences into lifting the roof off the building with their hisses and boos.

It’s quite rare that the watching children will care or have much idea of who their top-of-the-bill celebrity actually is, so it’s so important for those leading the cast to connect with the audience by either playing the truth of the story and/or breaking down the fourth wall and forming an instant bond and relationship with the auditorium. While Sweeney admirably immerses herself into the villainous role, the excellent Quinn Patrick – as the dame – is quite superb as he steals the whole show and owns the audience from Nursie’s first appearance to the finale.

I’ve interviewed Patrick in the past and he’s without a doubt the best dame I’ve ever seen. He knows exactly how to perform to an audience and, in Tunbridge Wells, the adults – as well as the children – are splitting their sides at Nursie’s panto shenanigans. Performing alongside Patrick to provide much of the light relief is David Alcock’s King and the very hard-working and naturally funny Derek Moran from Channel 5’s Milkshake as Silly Billy. Moran and Patrick’s act-one scene in the kitchen and act-two mirror scene are real highlights. And the Doctor Who scene involving all three in a tribute to the famous Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first base…” routine is done very well.

Interestingly, the ensemble company (Villagers) – as well as the juniors (Village Children), who are one of three groups – stand out a lot more than in most pantomimes with a heavy emphasis on ballet and contemporary dance thanks to Regan Shepherd’s extremely inclusive choreography. The toy-dancing scene in act one is a very well-done stand-alone magical routine.

Strength-in-depth comes from Laura Mullowney’s Good Fairy – who did well despite a few opening-night lighting and sound-cue pauses that will inevitably iron themselves out… plus Caitlin McNerney in the title role and Michael Vinson as the Prince (the latter of who gets to battle it out with a digitally-projected dragon). The fairy tale principal pair don’t get to enjoy much panto comedy but certainly enjoy taking the youngsters on a magical journey, some of whom will be in a theatre for the first time in their lives.

It’s McNerney and Vinsen who also get to sing one of this year’s big panto songs, This is Me from The Greatest Showman. The other big panto-wide hit this year – as you’re asking – which is making an appearance across the board is the massive YouTube hit, Baby Shark, which on this occasion is also the audience sing-a-long number. Incidentally, this is the first pantomime I’ve seen this year which sticks to the tradition of bringing children up onstage, and is one which has been missed so far. I remember Christopher Biggins once telling me that this is, for him, his favourite part of the whole show. So, well done to Derek Moran for taking charge of what can be such an unpredictable segment.

Sleeping Beauty plays at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells until 2nd January 2019.
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  • : 07/12/2018