Gill Sutherland finds Sleep Beauty is ‘A brilliantly exuberant festive treat’ – which runs at The Theatre, Chipping Norton until 14th January
TAKING the kids to the family festive offering at the RSC involves much sushing as we try and get them to sit in hushed awe as the thespians strut their considerable stuff onstage. What a contrast going to see Sleeping Beauty at The Chipping Norton Theatre is.
Here, in true panto style, everyone is welcomed to behave thoroughly badly, with shouting, booing, hissing and singing along actively encouraged — at one point the ushers provoke carnage by lobbing handfuls of chew sweets to the kids in the audience. How very jolly.
The Chippy panto is a great tradition, each year this small theatre puts on a festive show that has a special place in locals’ hearts. It is always tailored perfectly to the local demographic, so as well as lots of relevant references to nearby places and people, it’s also a clever affair, cheesey as a panto demands, but also edgy and very funny.
And this season’s Sleeping Beauty does not disappoint. Written by ‘panto meister’ Andrew Pollard, and directed by John Terry, the story kicks off in Tudor times and, after the long nap, wakes up in the summer of the swinging 1960s.
This, of course, gives some great excuses for numerous fancy costume changes and some brilliant musical numbers. Eamonn Fleming’s dame, Nanny Fanny, is from the Les Dawson school — withering looks and a dry humour are ‘her’ forte — and the period leap sees her give full throttle as a Queen Elizabeth-type then ramp up the innuendos as a dollybird in a cupcake dress come the 1960s.
Elsewhere the time switch enables the strong cast to have more fun: feisty Princess Rose, convincingly played by Lucy Penrose, becomes a kung fu-kicking, catsuited babe in the pacier second half, while her love interest, the softy Tudor poet Byron (Connor Bannister) evolves into Jagger Prince, complete with Rolling Stones mannerism and cockney drawl. My favourite comic turn comes from Paul Tonkin as Rose’s dad King Lenny — he has great timing and, dressed in plaid suit and poloneck, plays the hapless father to perfection. Elsewhere the fairies are brilliant, in particular the baddie, Belladonna Bindweed, who is played with over-the-top maniacal enthusiasm by Erica Guyatt.
Add tip-top earworm pop tunes and some entertaining staging — an elaborate custard pie machine and Bond villain-type lair are particularly fab — and yet again Chippy have given us a brilliantly exuberant festive treat for the whole screaming family to enjoy.