Devised: by The Company
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Pantomimes. Love them or hate them, they’re traditionally raucous, noisy affairs holding little interest for any adults in the audience. Thank goodness then, for the Old Vic’s offering this festive season. Much like many big screen animations these days, there’s just as much here for the grown-ups as the children, if not more.
In her note in the lovingly crafted programme, director Sally Cookson explains how she’s taken the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty and woven it together with 18th Century folk tale The Leaves that Hung but Never Grew. The end result is something really quite special.
Prince Percy (David Emmings) is born into a loving household and surrounded by the Wise Women – a caring, scatty bunch of old ladies with interests that range from rashes to wrestling. Supremely put out for not having received her invitation to Percy’s first birthday party, the malicious Sylvia (Stuart Goodwin on blistering form), places a curse on the little Prince – he will prick his finger before his 16th birthday and die. The best the Wise Women can do is alter the spell to mean that he and the rest of the kingdom will only fall asleep until he’s woken by true love’s kiss. When plucky Deilen (Kezrena James), grieving from the loss of her beloved grandmother, appears a hundred years later and gives him CPR, the two set off on a quest to find the leaves that will mend her broken heart.
While the pantomime staple of cross-dressing is present and correct (the Wise Women are played by both male and female members of the cast), the script, performances, and production values lift this head and shoulders above anything in which you’d want to shout ‘he’s behind you!’ The tight-knit company work from a script they’ve devised themselves that’s full of laughs, original songs, special effects, and so many costume changes it’s impossible to count.
Mike Beer’s sound design is superb, as are the musicians. Michael Vale’s set, as always with productions at the Old Vic, is impressive – a huge, curved, shifting, all-in-one structure. And Aideen Malone’s lighting design, at times no more than a subtle change in mood, never fails to transport us halfway across the world.
From wandering minstrels playing folk renditions of random and inappropriate pop songs, to the sheer attention to detail, this is a production with an enormous soul.
Irresistibly touching and undeniably moving, go a little closer to Christmas and you’ll leave with even more of a festive glow in your cheeks, and an annoyingly catchy song in your heart.
Runs until 17January 2016 | Image: Contributed