Writer: Peter Rowe
Director: Rob Salmon
Musical Director: Ben Goddard
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
As the New Wolsey Theatre launches their 12th Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto, it would be easy to think the genre was running out of steam, but rather than some dozy show to snooze through, the sheer energy and enthusiasm of Sleeping Beauty make this the ultimate festive pick me up.
As King Candlestick Camelot celebrates the birth of his daughter, Princess Susie, the local fairies are invited to the Christening and bestow gifts on the infant. Fairy Fanciful endows Susie with the gift of beauty but an oversight for malevolent spirit Morgana results in a dreadful curse. On her 16th birthday Susie will prick her finger and die. Can the mortified monarch do anything to stop the impending disaster?
Step up the formidable figure of Dame Taffeta Trott, the King’s resident nursemaid, with a mind firmly in the gutter and a bust that could repel an army at forty paces. Raising young Susie as her own child, away from the glare of Morgana, all looks well until Susie takes an unhealthy interest in spinning…
Those familiar with the New Wolsey’s twist on traditional panto will not be surprised to hear the multi-talented cast of actor musicians burst into classic rock and pop numbers at every possible opportunity. Yes, you may see some of the song titles coming a mile off but that’s all part of the tongue firmly in cheek, fun.
The company is clearly enjoying the absurdity as much as the audience. Esther Biddle’s slightly supercilious Fairy Fanciful has a regal air, ready with a withering look for small children on the front row trying to see the secret of her magical entrance and exit. Sarah Mahoney’s apprentice Frederica is certainly down with the kids but means well.
Sean Kingsley gives us a wonderfully dotty King Candlestick while Karen Mann and Steve Simmonds provide the requisite villains of the piece, Morgana and her dim-witted son Mordred.
Any good panto needs its central love story and there is real chemistry between Peter Manchester’s Simon Steadfast and Lilly Howard’s Princess Susie.
Of course though, any panto isn’t complete without a Dame and Will Kenning is fast becoming a New Wolsey institution. Grotesque yet puzzlingly vulnerable, this rugby prop of a ‘woman’ has the audience eating out of her hand. Possessed of one of the most flexible faces in panto, Kenning is totally mesmerising, endowing Taffeta with a multi layered character, humorous to small children yet managing to cram in enough innuendo for the more ‘mature’ mind.
While in some previous Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto’s the songs have seemed shoe-horned into the script, here the choices seem entirely natural. Peter Rowe’s script also manages to get a well-aimed dig in at perhaps TV’s version of pantomime, X Factor.
Diego Pitrach’s set provides just the right level of sparkle without crowding the stage and Rob Salmon’s direction keeps just enough tradition without sacrificing the freshness of the piece.
If there’s one small criticism it’s that the running time is perhaps a bit long for a panto but, given the rapt attention of the audience, who would want to rob them of a moment’s fun.
With so much joy and cheer on show, this is one show you definitely won’t want to sleep through.
Runs until 26th January 2013
Photo: Mike Kwasniak