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North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Sleeping Beauty – Gala, Durham

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

Writer: Gary Kitching

Director: Rachael Glover

Enter exuberant Hester the Jester, (Lauren Waine) immediately engaging with the audience, setting the scene and story. Widowed King Archibald of Durham-ion (Jacob Anderton), is planning the christening to celebrate the birth of his beautiful daughter Briar Rose (Chloe Jane Millar), taken from the French title La Belle au bois dormant.

The princess is basically put under a spell of 100 years sleep, initiated by pricking her finger, only to be reversed by another magic spell. This is a fresh interpretation and approach, based on the original story, with new twists such as Prince Chad of Middles-Boroughly (Benjamin Storey) not being the traditional prince. Briar Rose’s best friend Sammie the Dog (Jude Nelson) plays a big part and which child doesn’t love a talking animal. Nanny Fartoften (Steve Byron) doesn’t appear till well into the first half. Fartoften by name and fartoften by nature, these ‘noises’ are numerous on his first appearance, which delight the kids, then little afterwards. Byron is a dame in the truest sense, a bloke in a frock and doesn’t he ‘fly’ well.

Mostly panto virgins, apart from a few stalwarts, the company has a wide span of abilities and experience, from the recently graduated Millar to seasoned actors like Byron. Kitching has many TV acting credits and is known for writing, such as the 2019 short film, Hypocrisy of Democracy, centred on a political humanitarian crisis – a far cry from panto. This may be his first pantomime but as any good writer he has researched the story’s history well. Actor, facilitator and stage manager, Glover, also directs, particularly for the Live Youth Theatre.

Traditional panto, having a plot and characters, is about good versus evil, generally derived from fork lore or a fairy tale; evil is well represented by Evil Witch Karen (Zoe Lambert), while Waine is the good element. Customarily it involves lots of music, dancing, slapstick, comedy, colourful eccentric costumes and audience participation. Excellent live music abounds in this production provided by musical director Joshua Tarrier, Bryn Batten, Richard Rutherford and Charlie Smith; there are numerous songs but they are often unnecessarily loud; lots of well-choreographed dancing (Helen West), with eight numbers in the first half alone; a very controlled clinical slosh scene, but no slapstick; verbal comedy, yes, and certainly colourful, eccentric, beautiful costumes (Emily Baxendale) abound. There is minimal audience participation, apart from talking, mainly, to the front few rows –  what about the rest of the audience?

There is more in the second half, but apart from Lambert, no character comes into the audience, which children usually adore. There is no take off scene and minimal shouts of “oh no he isn’t” or “it’s behind you”. There are over 10 lengthy blackouts that break involvement, a more audience friendly change of scene would be advantageous.

The earliest Sleeping Beauty version goes back to the early 14th century with the Brothers Grimm printing a 1697 version, so it has a long standing history. Waine narrates throughout, as the story does not unfold naturally, which exchanges between characters would expose. This is the main weakness – you do not get to know a character except by what they tell you out front and very few relationships are revealed otherwise, so one does not connect with them. There are no outcrys of joy or dislike when any of them enter the stage.

A show is like a recipe, the same ingredients, flour, butter, sugar, fruit, may produce a cake, but in the hands of others a scone, both good but the scone needs something extra to finish it, like jam or butter – this panto is a scone.

To non panto traditionalist these points may not matter and they could just enjoy a colourful musical show, which these 150 minutes are.

Runs until 8th January 2023.

The Reviews Hub Score

Colourful musical show

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. We’ve been going to the panto at the Gala for the last 8 years and to be honest this was the worst ever, my husband couldn’t even sit through the second half. The grandkids now 10 and 12 said they would rather have gone out for a meal, that says it all.The atmosphere wasn’t there from the beginning they just didn’t have it. We are going to see the original cast at Rainton Meadows next week, same panto but by the original cast and writers. Fingers crossed they have done a good job which I’m sure they will have.

  2. We’ve been going here as a family tradition for 6 years now and we absolutely loved it.

    Our niece was so engaged with and the audience was loving it, with plenty of interaction.

    Well done everyone involved.

  3. 20/12/2022
    We travel to this pantomime each year because the script, performers and humour are so good.
    However this year was absolutely awful!!!!! From the outset it all felt lacklustre and just sad. No one laughed ….it was all very bizarre. The dog character was given far too much time to fill in time and was incredibly annoying and irrelevant. The traditional pantomime dame did not even look as of they were wearing make up…just a mam in a dress. There was no heart and soul in the performances….as if the actors were Judt going through the motions. The usual part where something gets spilled and the characters slip and slide around was just done so poorly. The story line was just bizarre…a talking dog lickojg sleeping beauty. However sleeping beauty looked more like snow white. The evil witch Karen was just weird….her singing and speaking voice were just very different! I felt totally let down. Usually thoroughly enjoy the pantomime and come away with my ribs aching….wished I had gone to raonton meadows where I here the original cast have gone…

  4. We went last night, and although the majority of the audience seemed to enjoy, we did not. There were 8 of us in our party and we all struggled to sit through it. The singing was awful, out of key, the most annoying character was the dog, but only the dog could sing. The script was poor, it literally was painful. Two rows walked out but the second half. The original crew out perform the new. Work in progress it may be but sadly incredibly disappointed

  5. Absolutely fantastic,and for the cast to have so much enthusiasm after 75 shows… BRILLIANT

  6. Well we really enjoyed this and it’s the best if 3 we’ve seen this year. There were 5 of us,including 2 children aged 7 and 9, and they laughed and joined in all the way.

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