It felt unusual travelling to the theatre on a very sunny and reasonably warm day to see a pantomime, but everyone’s favourite Christmas activity is making a nationwide spring comeback, with theatres around the UK, resurrecting the festive tradition for the Easter season. The Epstein Theatre’s offering is Sleeping Beauty, the traditional story of a beautiful princess who pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her birthday, falling asleep for one hundred years until awoken by True Love’s Kiss.
Written by Liam Mellor and directed by Chantelle Nolan, this fun jukebox musical pantomime features all of the traditional elements with lots of opportunity for audience participation. The pantomime is opened by our narrator, Fairy Sparkle (Katy Mac) who lives up to her glittering name with her effervescent personification and beautifully rhymed dialogue. The dancers, captained by Callum Fairfield, and choreographed by Nazene Langfield, make an early appearance, and do an excellent job of adding movement to the story.
Our story begins with the celebration of the birth of Princess Aurora whose parents the King (Warren Donnelly) and Queenie (Mark Two) have made the grave error of not inviting the wicked fairy, Carabose (Rachael Wood) to participate with. Stung by her exclusion, Carabose casts a devastating curse that the newly born princess will prick her finger on a spindle on her eighteenth birthday and die. Lighting is put to excellent use here to increase the drama of the dreadful curse and Wood’s performance as the evil villain is very good. Her fantastic devil horned headdress makes her both wicked and magnificent. Wood does an excellent job of balancing her malicious threat with clumsy incompetence which makes her easy to engage with. The pantomime may however not be suitable for particularly sensitive or very young children, with one child sitting close to me being so frightened of Carabose that her family sadly had to leave during the interval.
The desperate royal family appoint Chester the Jester (Reece Sibbald) as the princess’ royal protector, but as that seems unlikely to be sufficient, Fairy Sparkle downgrades the horrific death sentence to a long nap. The cute fairy tale scenery is lovely and creates a magical feeling in the theatre and when the Princess Aurora (Mia Molloy) reaches the day before her eighteenth birthday, her sweet and charming presence completes the feeling of enchantment.
Mark Two’s Dame performance is brilliant and he does a good job of engaging with the children of the audience in some fabulous costumes, designed and created by himself and his wife, Dee, including a gorgeous dalmatian print outfit that Cruella de Vil herself would be very proud to be seen in, and a beautiful lit up birthday cake dress that I’m quite tempted to recreate for my next big birthday in summer of next year. My own eighteenth birthday aside… Aurora’s party featured a selection of fairy tale characters, brilliantly portrayed by the dancers. The Cinderella costume was particularly beautiful, and was enhanced by her enthusiastic and engaging portrayal of the character.
Contemporary political and local humour increase the atmosphere for the audience and some sly, pointed references to critics being in the audience for press night added a delightful mischievous twist. Sibbald’s comedy is very good, with his use of naughty nursery rhymes and sneaky innuendo making the show enjoyable for grown ups and children alike. Poor Chester is in love with the Princess Aurora, and his engaging personality contrasted with the pretentious and silly Prince George (Lewis Burrage) makes it easier to root for the jester than his royal highness. The conflict between Sibbald and Burrage is excellent and this could easily go even further as both men compete for the Princess’ affections.
High points of the panto include the traditional tongue twisting messages, an original and amusing take on the late afternoon gameshow, The Chase, and a hilarious slapstick performance of Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five. A fun twist is given to the climax of the plot, with Prince George being kidnapped by Carabose, giving Chester the opportunity to come to the rescue, albeit reluctantly as he’s quite happy for the Prince to stay gone! The visit to Carabose’s secret lair is well worth the spectacular glittering gargoyle which flanks her throne and the delightfully awkward rendition of YMCA.
As the show draws to a close, winners of golden tickets are invited onto the stage to perform a song with Chester and the delight of the child chosen to be “star of the show” as she was applauded was heart melting and something I’m sure she’ll remember for her rest of her life.
Sleeping Beauty is a lovely pantomime with all of the expected elements and some wonderful unique twists. It did have a festive feeling, due to the inescapable connotations with Christmas, so some Easter elements, such as bunnies, eggs or springtime flowers, could have been used to enhance the feeling of the warmer season. Brilliantly performed throughout, with excellent scenery, costumes and effects, this is definitely worth seeing over the Easter break and will be fun for all of the family.
Sleeping Beauty is being performed at the Epstein until 16th April. Tickets are available here https://www.epsteintheatre.co.uk/events/sleeping-beauty/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 8th April 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★