Writer and Director: Katharine Armitage
Everyone has a dream. Some might not yet see it, others may refuse to share it, but deep down, there exists the capacity for something tremendously special within us all.
So, grab your fluffiest pillow and stuff it inside your adventure pack. Best bring something bright to ward off the dangers lurking in the shadows, as you, Prince and a host of magnificently maddening characters embark on a star-leaping journey as we search for a rather lively and awake Sleeping Beauty and discover a few dreams along the way.
As traditional as one can get with fairy-tale choices, writer and director Katharine Armitage instead seeks to tweak the story of Sleeping Beauty for fresh-faced audiences and offer those familiar with curses, thorns, and saviours a gentle nudge away from hegemonic fairy tales. Told digitally over Zoom, Sleeping Beauty? whisks the audience across different dreamscapes as Prince encounters various people who will aid in fulfilling his dream in becoming a hero, destined to save Princess Rose from her eternal slumber – thing is, she’s already awake (sort of).
Felicity Sparks, Chris Dobson, Alicia McKenzie, and Molly Small take great steps to incorporate the young viewers and manage to achieve the difficult task of getting the older zoom viewers involved in a few choice dance moves. Bouncing, engaging, and charming, they elevate the surprisingly complex nuances of Armitage’s script to a digestible level for kids. Additionally, Dobson earns stripes for puppetry designs for the adorable Alba the cat and Puff the dog.
Bonus points will be offered to the production team for their late-eighties fantasy film tributes to the likes of The Never Ending Story or Labyrinth, conjuring a genuine sense of tempered fear with both the villains Dreaver and ominous Shadow. Simple tools, such as shadow puppetry and image manipulation go both ways though, some working to the production’s advantage, others no more than a colour palette swap and add detriment rather than emphasis.
Subverting expectations, as the production winds down and villainous revelations emerge Sleeping Beauty? takes an admirable stance for a children’s production. While appreciating and encouraging dreams, Armitage’s show respects the importance of manageable goals, and that even the smallest of dreams are vital to what makes us who we are.
Further, in a growing trend over the past decade, the traditional damsel in distress narrative is broken, replaced with a budding friendship and recognition that often the only one capable of saving us is ourselves, but that a little help is never a bad thing. Although Princess Rose is carried as a woman who can handle herself in her own right, and displays the intelligence to outfox our antagonist, the role is written with a degree of two-dimensional development. Not a large concern, given the relative short length, but enough to be noticeable. And in a production which doesn’t blur the lines of complexity and discusses topics of loneliness and aspiration, the character’s shallowness slips up on an otherwise tight script.
The significant issue is where filler becomes fodder. Individual sequences vary in quality, and though some like Super Christmas land poorly, Chef Arabelcher and the Gloomy Ghost are notable highlights bringing levels of humour which reach the taller heads in the room and raise smiles from the smallest. Further, they carry the pantomime spirit with games, songs and are one step away from flinging sweets into the camera.
Armitage is to be commended for her dedication in not patronising to the youngest ages. There’s one thing to be said regarding Sleeping Beauty? – its cute charm, infectious numbers, and cuddly puppetry ensure that there won’t be any nodding-off kiddies or grandparents at home.
Runs here until 30 December 2020