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Sleeping Beauty

20 January 2018

No Sleep till Curtain

Sleeping Beauty

by Ben Crocker

Edmundians, Cheray Hall, Whitton, until 27th January

Review by Matthew Grierson

The one thing about this Sleeping Beauty that isn’t charming is the prince – and that’s only because he’s called Orlando rather than having the more common panto soubriquet. The Edmundian Players’ production of the fairy tale, on this weekend and next in Whitton, is a sterling, stirring orchestration of cast and crew to warm the heart in these cold days.

 

From the off, its ambition is apparent. The lively Billy (Ellen Walker), this play’s answer to Buttons, leads the palace cleaners in a well-drilled chorus across a bold, impressive and, as it turns out, versatile set. He then fills us in on the plot – don’t worry, there isn’t much – before the mode deftly switches to physical comedy and wordplay for his exchange with King Norbert (Becky Halden). Nobby demands Billy bring his footstool, but no sooner does the royal personage mount the step than he leaps off it and strides across from stage right to stage left then back again, and so on, reciting the 26 names he is about to christen his daughter (Aurora through to Zanita), while all the time Billy struggles to keep pace with him.

Up next in the overture of characters is our dame, Dave Young as Queen Dorothy, who resembles nothing so much as Steve Pemberton of the League of Gentlemen essaying a loose impersonation of our own HM.

Queen Dotty then coaxes Kitty on stage – and a big hand, or paw, for Isabel Espi, who is playing the palace pet complete with sling, having sustained what looks like a sprained wrist. Both in their own way are central to the play: Queenie with her undoubtable presence and humour keeping the energy up, and Kitty as an adorable constant, offering the occasional “meow” as a wry comment on proceedings. The cheer she gets when she is blessed with the courage of a lion and mimes along to an MGM-style roar is well earned indeed. Rounding out the cast of goodies are Beautiful, Thoughtful and Peaceful, the three Fairy Godmothers who arrive in time to bless the infant princess in the form of rhyme …

But are rudely upstaged by the wicked Carabosse and her talking cat Spindleshanks (top marks to scriptwriter Ben Crocker for the name, indicative of his verbal dexterity). As Billy has not invited them to proceedings, the baddies are (super)naturally there to curse Aurora to death-by-spinning-wheel when she reaches maturity. This fabulous pair, played by Amelia Kirk and Clare Blake respectively, offer such good-value villainy that the audience is often caught between laughter and booing when they appear, and they squabble for instance over which of them will get to pretend to be a little old lady or simple serving wench to deceive Aurora and Orlando. And how Kirk manages to keep her elaborate headgear on throughout the play, while still striding commandingly about the place, is a marvel. She and Spindleshanks are also heralded by increasingly arch musical cues, so likewise to be lauded for their work are MD Roger Swift and effects technician Paul Wiz Baker.

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Not that the rest of the production team doesn’t merit praise: costumes and music sparkle throughout, often literally, in testament to the technical ambition that the play fulfils … while helping itself to a few stylings from the animated version in the process. Most of the eighteen-strong cast effect several costume changes during the course of the show, and the flats are switched with similar frequency to become variously the palace throne room, the kitchens, Carabosse’s lair, Dreamland and the town centre. There are a couple of what one might call technical hitches when drapes drop unexpectedly, and another when the singalong lyrics to “Proper Cup of Coffee” should pop down on a different drape and miss their cue, but the cast, whether young or less young, remain unruffled and keep the show moving admirably.

The curtain is on the whole effectively used to screen these complicated changes, and it serves as the palace garden backdrop against which grown-up Aurora and Orlando meet for the first time. Well, I say “grown-up”, but Kathryn Bedell and Mary McGrath are taking on big parts for their age, and acquit themselves well, shining especially when it comes to the singing and dancing, with Aurora’s dream song solo a singular achievement. The larger musical numbers are equally accomplished, and this is nowhere clearer than at the start of the second act when a cast of somnambulant courtiers and zombies are led through “Thriller” in Carabosse’s lair by the bad fairy herself, only to switch into choreography of a different sort when there is a Keystone Cops-style run-around, culminating in a “They’re behind you!” set piece.

I realise that I’ve more than usually resorted to a summary of the show here rather than review it as such, but the Edmundians’ production is one that’s hard to fault – not only attempting what you’d expect of larger, more professional productions but doing so with aplomb. If there were one note I would offer, it would be that the production is so good that the cast can afford to be more confident, upping the tempo and giving the songs just that little bit more oomph. But this is a first night, and I’m sure this will come naturally as the show goes on. All I can say is that, when the production wraps up with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, it certainly captures the audience’s, and this reviewer’s, mood.

Matthew Grierson
January 2018

Photography by Edmundo Sostenitore

 

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From → Pantomime, Reviews

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