FamilyFeaturedPantomimeReviewSouth East

Sleeping Beauty – Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Reviewer: Dan English

Writer and Director: Paul Hendy

The pantomime at the Marlowe Theatre has long established itself as a staple of the festive period, and this year’s production, which sees musical theatre icon and West End superstar Carrie Hope Fletcher making her pantomime debut, is the perfect Christmas cracker to kickstart the season.

Fletcher, playing the delightfully devilish villain Carabosse (amusingly coined Carrie-Bosse in this production), looks completely at home in this incredibly fun role. Fletcher’s vocal range is exceptional, and the closing of Act 1 provides a superb opportunity to demonstrate this. In addition, Fletcher’s willingness to poke fun at herself makes for some of the play’s subtler jokes, including good-natured jibes at her iconic role in Les Misérables, as well as being flanked by two dinosaurs interestingly named Lloyd and Webber. This is Fletcher’s first dabble in pantomime and after this performance it would be a shame if this is her last, particularly as she thrives in this amusingly nasty role.

Alongside Fletcher is Ore Oduba, who plays Prince Michael. Oduba plays the leading man with charm, and s given plenty of moments to shine both vocally and through some genuinely jaw-dropping choreography. Oduba oozes class in this role, but does not play the role with too much seriousness, which is a welcome trait. In addition, Oduba’s ability to deliver slapstick comedy is tested as he partakes in one of the traditional Marlowe pantomime sequences, and it is certainly an opportunity he plays up to with amusing consequences.

There are certain aspects of a Marlowe pantomime that are like no other, and Ben Roddy’s annual turn as the Dame, here as Nurse Nellie, remains as outrageous and as inventive as it has done in previous years. Marking his 14th pantomime at the theatre, Roddy is just as funny as he ever has been, with his interaction with both audience and fellow cast members leaving both parties in hysterics. Roddy leads the piece through iconic Marlowe gags, such as the ‘Wheelbarrow of Puns’, and his turn as Nellie is a highlight of this production.

Max Fulham, Jangles, and his puppet monkey George, are suitably goofy and Fulham is given ample opportunity to show off his impressive ventriloquist skills, which he does with aplomb. When it comes to ventriloquism, Fulham appears to be one of the best out there and his creativity with puppet George has some of the funniest moments and biggest laughs. This is absolutely the most laughter anyone has got just from wiggling their eyebrows, and Fulham immediately brings the smiles and while the cast is dominated by some A-list West Enders, it is Fulham and his puppet which threaten to steal the show.

Jennie Dale is the sweet Fairy Moonbeam and, interestingly, the character is not as side-lined as perhaps they have been in other productions. Dale has the unenviable job of warming up the audience at the start, and has enough glitz, glamour and charm to set the mood, and show off some comic timing too. Dale also stars in a fantastic duet with Fletcher in the second half, with one particular note earning her one of the night’s loudest ovations.

Another interesting move is the increased agency Princess Aurora gets in this piece. Played by Ellie Kingdon, fresh from her role as Sandy in a recent touring production of Grease, Aurora feels a more fleshed-out character than in previous versions, and Kingdon seizes the chance to create a fun and dynamic character. Her pricking of her finger genuinely feels quite sad, rather than just a plot device and that is both down to Paul Hendy’s script, but also Kingdon’s delivery.

Marking his incredible 27th outing at the Marlowe Pantomime, Chris Wong continues to work tirelessly as the production’s musical director, threading together original and cover songs with his unique rock n’ roll showmanship. There is a family-feel to the production and this is heightened by the continued presence of Roddy and Wong who are, by now, Marlowe legends.

As a visual spectacle alone, this is a pantomime that feels no expense has been spared. From dazzling sets to glittering costumes, the world the production creates feels loved. In addition, the Marlowe pantomime has, in recent years, added in more and more special effects and sequences. This year is no exception, and the inclusion of a dazzling and sense-defying fire show, thanks to entertainers ‘Two Cheeky Monkeys’, where the heat can be felt in the stalls, is one of the most ambitious attempts so far, and gives the show a ‘wow’ factor.

Sleeping Beauty is a triumphant treat, which thrives in its creativity, good humour, and with a warmth that genuinely captivates all ages. The production at the Marlowe appears to get better every year, and this pantomime is a must-see, which will leave audiences laughing all the way to the next one.

Runs until 8 January 2023

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