Writer: Mike Kenny
Director: Mark Babych
Composer/MD: James Frewer
Set/Lighting Designer: Ciaran Bagnall
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Hull Truck Theatre has certainly pulled out all the stops with Sleeping Beauty. From the party atmosphere in the foyers, the cast members roaming the audience before the start, to the colourful set designed and beautifully lit by Ciaran Bagnall, the audience is left in no doubt that this will be a fun evening.
So it is, even if it lacks the gentle pseudo-improvisational charm of the initial version of Mike Kenny’s play. Kenny re-tells the familiar story through the medium of the Nannas, grandmothers filling the rôles of Good Fairies – and, in one case, Evil Fairy. He takes a typically oblique version of the tale by beginning with the Nannas gathering to celebrate the birth of Briar Rose’s baby, then narrating and acting the story of her own birth, the great gifts, the ominous curse and how it all worked out. This Sleeping Beauty starts with the happy ending.
Mark Babych’s production seems pitched more at a whole family audience than the original children’s play. It’s slicker, with a new music score by James Frewer, also one of the Nannas, playing a selection of instruments. The new songs are for the most part from the pop/soul part of the spectrum, though, the Prince’s jolly and very funny song about his bravery is an exception. On-stage accompaniment from the cast with drums, guitar, saxophone, etc., is excellent.
Sian Thomas’ costumes don’t establish the Nannas as a group or, indeed, have any hint of the Nanna about them, no cross-dressing for the males. The unit that operates as a link between audience and stage is much more youthful: four pyjama-clad members of the Community Ensemble who, as well as dancing with energy and some grace, show great personality and naturalness on stage.
Laurie Jamieson is outstanding as Nanna Noonoo, something of a Harpo Marx figure finally forced by the other Nannas to act the part of the Prince, a gloriously posturing silly-ass. Annabel Betts (Nanna Janine) is a wonderfully spirited Briar Rose, one of the few beautiful stage princesses to wear a woolly hat and glasses.
The Nannas are organised by Nanna Worrywart, with Louise Shuttleworth suitably bossy and concerned and Nanna Dorothy Pink (Harry Hamer) plays it rather straighter as the King than his/her name suggests in between putting in a solid shift on drums. Nicholas Goode (or perhaps Mike Kenny) seems not quite sure how bad Bad Nanna Sandra is, but the idea that all the trouble stems from her love of a real good party is an ingenious concept and Goode manages to stir up the boos as the play progresses.
“Maybe I’m closer to panto than I think,” writes Mike Kenny in the programme and, even if the panto set-pieces aren’t there, there’s something of the pantomime about the enthusiastic audience participation: singing, of course, but also a game of Musical Statues, occasional advice from small children and, on Press Night, a stage full of Brownies at the end of the play.
Runs until 9 January 2016 | Image: Andrew Billington Photography