Writer: Daniel O’Brien (aka Colin Blumenau)
Director: Rhiannon Hannon
Musical Director: Jim Lunt
Designer: Mark Walters
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Wakefield Theatre Royal pantomimes have, in recent years, gained a deserved reputation for quality entertainment. Scripts are intelligent as well as silly, tradition and the narrative are equally respected, productions values are excellent and an engaging mix of the homely and the spectacular can be relied on. This year’s Sleeping Beauty has all the familiar elements in place, but somehow – at least early in the run – it misses the sparkle of recent years.
Perhaps Daniel O’Brien’s script pays a little too much respect to the narrative. Worthily he finds a motivation for Fairy Carabosse’s cruel intervention at the celebrations of Princess Aurora’s birth. Many years before, King Stefan stole her golden wings and this is her bid for revenge. When Prince Petroc awakens Aurora with a kiss, the narrative still has a morally improving way to go: will the arrogant king admits his faults as Carabosse kidnaps the newly awakened princess? It’s a strong story-line, but a bit congested as traditional pantomime elements fight for stage time.
Perhaps we should turn to the programme note that tells us that the audience has a “very special role to play”. No pantomime is complete without the performers telling the audience to be louder, quicker or more responsive, but at Wakefield’s Press Night, despite the lively presence of the Alverthorpe Guides and Brownies in the audience, these protestations had the ring of truth. Until the wonderful Dame Chris Hannon worked his magic, there was some uncertainty of audience response.
The latest in Hannon’s creations for Wakefield, Nanny Nurture, is a joy in every way, extravagantly costumed (a hot air balloon probably the oddest), knowing, complicit with the audience both young and old, supplying an ironic commentary on his own ironic commentary – a study for sociologists, or just great fun.
As the traditional simple soul of panto here named Muddles, Thomas Cotran is full of energy and physical agility but is rather too frenetic to gain the confidence of the younger elements in the audience. When partnered with Hannon, the pace of things becomes much better. Claire Sundin (the good fairy Filament) and Julie Stark (Carabosse) are nicely contrasted and Neil Smye copes well with the varied demands of King Stefan: a conflicted character in the surprisingly serious theme of kindness-is-all and a jolly song and dance man with Hannon and Cotran. Alice Strachan is more bolshy than most Auroras and Steffan Lloyd-Evans is a pop star of a Prince Petroc.
Rhiannon Hannon’s production is solid as well as spectacular in Mark Walters’ stylish, pseudo-mediaeval sets and attractive or outlandish costumes. MD/keyboardist Jim Lunt does wonders in support and the young chorus members are superb, not just very well drilled by choreographer Louise Denison, but relaxed and confident enough to engage wittily with the audience.
Runs until 31 December 2016 | Image: Amy Charles Media