ComedyPantomimeReviewSouth West

Sleeping Beauty – The Watermill Theatre, Newbury

Writer: Rufus Norris
Director: Bill Buckhurst
Reviewer: Mary Scriven

What better time for a bit of theatre magic than the Christmas season and they’re making an early and very impressive start at The Watermill Theatre in Bagnor with their production of Sleeping Beauty.  

tell-us-block_editedChristmas is always special at The Watermill, and they’ve brought the big guns in for this one with writer Rufus Norris, currently the artistic director of the National Theatre, and director Bill Buckhurst from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

It is almost instantly established that Norris, although also a multi-award-winning director, is a writer who really understands the minds of children judging by the rapt young faces in the audience. When they aren’t being kept spellbound by the plot they are laughing their heads off at the antics of Fairy Goody (Molly Logan), who has the unfortunate affliction of farting loudly every time she conjures up a spell, which goes down very well indeed with the young audience.  Logan excels in this pivotal part with a performance that captures everyone’s hearts and takes the action along with speed and skill.

This quirky adaptation of a classic tale is superbly told.  The play opens with haunting harp music and song in a beautifully lit scene where Fairy Goody establishes herself as our heroine, and we find ourselves in a thorny forest with danger lurking in the shape of a fearsome human-eating ogre (Matthew Romain).   The King and Queen are longing for a child, and Goody has the power to make this happen.  She grants their wish in a typically hilarious way, but when they upset her she puts the well-known curse on the princess – that she will prick her finger and fall into a long sleep that can only be ended by her being kissed by a prince.  Sure enough, the princess wants a new dress for her 16th birthday and, although her parents have banned all spinning wheels from the kingdom, her father relents to grant her wish, and we all know what happens after that.

But that basic plot only scratches the surface of this inventive version that is excellent entertainment in every way.  The cast is exceptionally strong, and the actor/musicians flit seamlessly from one character to another providing excellent music, dance, comedy and edge-of-the-seat drama as we find out what happens after the princess falls asleep.  Various unsuitable princes appear as candidates for the role of awakener-in-chief (Alex Mugnaioni was hilarious as the Prince of Nerds), but then the successful prince turns out to be the son of a ogress, which rather complicates matters.  

Simon Nock makes a wonderful Ogress, and the writing and direction make it possible for him to be a baddie without putting too much fear into the hearts of the younger members of the audience.  And although things look bad when Goody loses her magic, there is enough humour and enchantment in this lovely production to tell us that good will eventually triumph over evil, as it always does in any children’s story worth telling.  

The production is full of atmosphere, enhanced enormously by sound by David Gregory and Tarek Merchant’s music.   The clever writing and superb performances by the extremely talented cast must put it right up there among the best that theatre has to offer this Christmas.  You don’t have to be a child to enjoy this production, but take one or two with you if you can – it’s worth it to see them enjoying the farts.

Runs until 1 January 2017 | Image: Philip Tull

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  1. Superb production at the Watermill. Excellent, enthusiastic performance by all the actors. However, unsuitable for children under 8 years old, in my opinion.

  2. I agree totally about the age threshold. I am afraid I consider it irresponsible to market this as “for all the family”. It features ogres who eat babies and was frightening and inappropriate for younger children, some of whom were made to cry from fear in the performance we attended. Some of the humour was also in poor taste in my opinion. A great shame because we have greatly enjoyed attending your Christmas productions in the past. I am afraid that this show will cause me to question the theatre’s judgement in the future. I am very sorry to be so negative because I love your beautiful little theatre. Thanks for asking for comments.

  3. I would simply like to say that I totally agree with Rebecca Hunt’s review. I found some of the show embarrassing to watch. Easily the worst panto I have ever seen at the Watermill.

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