Director: Joanna Read
Musical director: Bryan Hodgson
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
Can a fairy tale be brought up to date? The Yvonne Arnaud does its best in its latest panto, Sleeping Beauty. Our hero, Prince Florizel, is a blogging eco-prince, live-streaming the action on social media. No bad thing, when Sleeping Beauty is a physicist and engineer, and their joint idea of fun is checking out a science fair.
Director Joanna Read, the theatre’s chief executive, dares to change the Yvonne Arnaud’s panto formula of monumental silliness, which has reigned supreme for many seasons. Instead the hand of political correctness creeps across proceedings. While stalwart stars remain – Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon as Nanny Fanny, Kit Hesketh-Harvey as the evil fairy Carabosse, and Jamie Brook as Muddles – an air of restraint hangs in the air.
Sleep Beauty’s father, King Cuthbert (Michael Sheldon) is stony broke. Costumes are plainer, the set simpler and the jibes and gests a little gentler (though Pizza Express in Woking gets the mention it deserves). Does any of this matter? Perhaps, for those uncomfortable with change; not a jot for legions of younger children – the intended audience, of course – who laughed, booed, hissed and clapped through every minute.
Holly Tandy, an X-Factor quarter-finalist, makes a lovable princess, while Andy Smith, in his third year at Guildford School of Acting, impresses as the prince. Yolanda Ovide strikes a fresh note as a hip-hop, rapping Fairy Stardust. The stars of the show, as always, are Hesketh-Harvey, ‘back to my most vicious, my most vile, my most voluptuous’ after a brief turn as a goodie last year; Gordon, wonderfully uproarious; and Brook, showcasing an impressive line in magic tricks.
Arnaud perennial, The Twelve Days of Christmas song, remains, though not quite as naughty as before. New addition the board game scene, in which Nanny Fanny and Muddles swap quick-fire repartee employing only the names of board games, looks set to become a classic.
There is fun aplenty as Nanny Fanny and Muddles produce what surely must be the worst cake in fairydom (‘I said season it, not sneeze on it!’), and more amusing mayhem as the pair race between Tardis-like time machines on either side of the stage. The band, directed by Bryan Hodgson, is excellent.
At times, the show feels like a pantomime horse: the front legs – all climate change and social media – going one way, while the back legs – old-school buffoonery – pull in the other. Still, if you like your panto 21st century-style, the Yvonne Arnaud does it better than most.
Runs until 5 January 2020 | Image: Contributed