NODA review of Sleeping Beauty

by Richard Fitt

To judge the frivolity of a pantomime with their predictable story lines, ‘double entendre,’ corny jokes and outrageous costumes one can only ask did it make you laugh and was the smile with you long after you left the theatre? This high-energy production certainly did that!

The set, designed by Director Christine Summerling was a splendid castle complete with tower, bunting and even Christmas lights hanging off the walls, all set at gallery level. The floor level was a curtained area to rear which changed to depict the various scenes, a marvellous lair stage left, full of Halloween style objects for the evil witch, whilst the 3-piece band occupied stage right. With nearly a dozen different scenes from The Royal Palace, to Easter Island, to A cottage in the Woods, to The Royal Kitchens this arrangement worked well in the main, kept it simple and quick between scenes. Only gripe was, and I suspect it was down to those pesky nuisances, ‘actors’ failing to close the doors centre stage rear, but we kept getting glances of the well-lit interior of the Green Room, which was odd and did detract from the action on stage. The Dame even alluded to it with a wonderful adlib about yet to teach Rose to close the front door of the cottage.

Sound and lighting by Lab Entertainment is pretty much flawless at the Mill these days, especially with the splendid new banks of LED lights and this show was no exception. If you hear everything crystal clear and you don’t notice the lighting, then it can be said that they have done their jobs to perfection.

We started with the very competent band, Kaye Tompkins and Andrew Longland-Meech (Keyboards) and Mike Kilsby (Drums) making an entrance, suitably attired in Mediaeval costume, introducing themselves and taking their places stage right. They were fun throughout and we even had a wonderful adlib moment where the Dame and the Drummer, repeated a slap of the Jester because they didn’t quite time the drum roll and cymbal crash. And at one point Kaye Tompkins was even left holding the baby! Perfect panto stuff!

Matt Perren as Harry, our Jester ran out on to the stage to immediately engage with the audience in what was a high-octane performance coupled with a strong singing voice in the opening number of ‘Comedy Tonight.’ His ‘cheeky chappy’ character kept us all on our toes with our cries of ‘Happy Harry’ every time he appeared. The perfect foil to our Dame.

Barry Thompson as Winnie Slaptickle (who thinks these names up?) was the driving force behind the pace of this show. He dominated every scene he was in, has perfect comic timing, a razor-sharp wit and turned every deviation from the script to his advantage. If it went the slightest bit wrong Barry was on it like a shot much to the audience’s delight. Great stuff!

Our villain, taking a break from her normal expertise in the costume and wig department and mastering the delivery of rhyming couplets was Susan Moore as ‘Deadly Nightshade,’ played with a well-judged mixture of malice, frustration with her servant Snivel and snarling anger as her plans went wrong time and again. If the baddy gets loudly and amicably booed at the walk-down then job well jobbed. She was indeed!

Her man-servant ‘Snivel’ played by Neil Clarke was a wonderful cross between Baldrick and Quasimodo and spent most of his time being assaulted both verbally or physically.

Skye Haggith as our heroine Princess Rose, was suitably innocent and demure with a touch of mischief, as for example with the scene where she pretended to still be sleeping when the Prince kissed her. Her singing ability didn’t go unnoticed either with her excellent, ‘Matchmaker.’

Ben Stewart played a perfectly straight bat as Prince William, her beau and suiter, whilst David Midlane and Jacqueline Knighton had a marvellous time hamming it up as the King and Queen and a pair of cannibals. Where did you get that wig David!

My standout performances were definitely our three good fairies, Leah Sigsworth (Fairy Lavender), Jenny Tymon-Robins (Fairy Lilac) and Cleo Carter (Fairy Loopy; sorry Lupin). If our dame was the pace of the show, then these three were the glue that held it all together, They mastered the comedy very well indeed and the singing was sublime. A particular mention to Cleo Carter who was probably the individual stand out performance. She had immaculate comic timing when delivering the ‘non-rhyming’ couplets and never wasted one of them, which she enhanced just by the stance she took with toes turned inward, adding to the awkwardness. Great to watch!

With brief cameos from Peter Allen and Douglas Pope as Captain, Ticket Seller, Harbour Master and dragon trainers, our adult cast was complete.

Saving the best till last, the children: Theo Reeson was delightful playing the multiple parts of Hard The Herald, Big Blue Balaclava and Newsboy and Seren Kapur was a lovely smiling Red Riding Hood.

Choreography on what has become a very sophisticated level is probably the main enhancement to pantomimes everywhere in the last 16 years and of course it is the children that have been at the forefront of this revolution.  Choreographer Catherine Mulgrew really got the best out of this very talented group of children, and some of the dance routines were quite breath-taking, quite literarily in some routines as they also sung their hearts out with numbers such as ‘Naughty.’ Quite the highlights of the show. So well done to both teams A) Vienna Hayers, Emily Burrows, Amelia Moody, Emma Ripley and Madison Bidwell  and B) (which I believe is the one I saw?) Milly Bradley, Isabel Boddington, Madelaine Clark, Magena and Seren Kapur. – You made my evening!

It would be a criminal offence not to mention the wonderful dragon that made a 30 second appearance in the second act. It was work of art and must have taken weeks to construct for such a short starring role, Sadly its designer remains uncredited, so whoever you are well done indeed. And also of course to Zandra Saxby for the rest of the many props.

The costume store was well and truly raided for this show and Virginia Pope can be particularly proud of the array and riot of colour she paraded before us. Not to forget our villain, Susan Moore who also sourced all the wigs. It’s often the costumes and wigs that stick in your mind long after you have left the theatre.

A well-directed pantomime by Christine Summerling, which mainly cracked along at a good pace with just one or two blips and couple of late scene starts, all well covered by the band. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening of a high standard one has come to expect of The Mill Theatre. Thank you for your hospitality and I look forward to 2017 with keen anticipation. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.