Richard Cadell and Sooty with Doreen Tipton showing her usual lazy cow enthusiasm and vitality

Sleeping Beauty

Wolverhampton Grand


What a glorious night of panto, stirring up memories of magical nights with my parents at Manchester Palace all those years ago, seeing the likes of Norman Evans, Harry Secombe, Ken Dodd, Norman Wisdom . . . even some of the jokes were like old friends . . . for a couple of hours I was a kid again.

This is a traditional, old fashioned – in the nicest sense of the words – family panto with no smut, nothing to upset maiden aunts, frighten horses or elicit awkward questions from tots; it is just clean, simple fun from curtain up to curtain down.

Yes, there are double entendres and asides that make children and adults laugh on different levels, but behind it all is that wonder and magic that can hook children on theatre for life.

Producers Qdos don’t skimp on budgets so we have pyrotechnics galore, a glittering set and decorated proscenium and special effects to enthral old and young with first Fairy Crystal floating above the stage then in mid-air above the audience and later a flashing red-eyed dragon soaring high over the stalls and threatening the dress circle.

And speaking of magic we had Richard Cadell and Sooty. I remember Sooty from the Harry Corbett days in the 1950s – yes, I am that old - and from the audience reaction the glove puppet is still as popular as ever,


Debbie McGee as  Fairy Crystal and Stylianos Hadjisavvas

Incidentally Corbett,  nephew of chip shop king, Harry Ramsden, bought the original Sooty on Blackpool North Pier for 7/6p (ask grandad about seven and a tanner) as a present for his son Matthew, and he was all yellow.

The act came later, and Corbett’s wife covered the puppet’s ears and nose in soot so they would show up better on black and white television when Sooty first appeared on the small screen back in 1952 – hence the name.  

Cadell, the hand of Sooty for the past 20 years, produces some magic tricks that defy explanation, big spectacular affairs with people disappearing from skeletal cages and boxes, including one suspended in mid-air, and a couple dragged from the audience – as I suspect the pair will be every performance – who are then sawn in half. Its all a bit tame, a bit, well, yawn – until the two couples are separated with seemingly no space to hide half a body, and the four halves are then reassembled the wrong way round. We all know it’s an illusion but it’s a hell of a good one - panto and magic show rolled into one!

He is not just a skilled magician though, he is the cheeky chappie Muddles, the court jester, and he is great fun gaining an immediate rapport with the audience, and if you have a court you need a royal, in the shape of Ian Adams as Queen Wilhelmina.

Adams is also the director and is the epitome of the traditional panto dame. There is nothing camp about him, it isn’t a drag act, he is what he is, a bloke in a frock, the spirit of a good old British panto dame.

Some of the jokes Noah probably told to his animals to keep them amused in their 40 days of rain, but its all part of the fun bringing life, fun and bustle to the stage – and as he tells us every year, “I don’t care”.

Adams' life and bustle, of course, being counter balanced by Doreen Tipton as Nurse Doreen, who is probably hoping the social don’t find out she’s moonlighting in the black economy and stop her benefits. Doreen has become an internet star and is now in her third panto, and still moaning about having to do anything but sit down or sleep. She is a gloriously funny invention from David Tristram - and beautifully portrayed.

prince and brincess

Oliver Ormson as dashing hero Prince Harry and Bethan-Wyn Davies as the awakened Princess Beauty. Pictures: Tim Thursfield – Express & Star 

Debbie McGee is still tripping the light fantastic on the dance floor, and still looking fantastic, as Fairy Crystal, while, in the bad corner, we have Julie Paton as Carabosse, a splendidly evil fairy, who when she is not casting spells to kill princesses or slagging off the audience, is also the show’s choreographer. God help anyone who gets a step wrong is all I can say . . .

She also has a lovely voice, with every word audible, which can also be said of Oliver Ormson as the dashing hero Prince Harry. Ormson who has a fine, clear tenor and a likeable personality.

And sleeping on the job, so to speak, a job, incidentally Doreen would have preferred as it involving kipping for much of the second act, was Bethan-Wyn Davies as Princess Beauty, she's the Sleeping Beauty bit to avoid trades description complaints..

A lovely performance . . . until she pricked her finger on a spinning wheel - to be honest it is more of a spinning wheel paperweight, but we will let that pass - to set in motion Carabosse’s evil spell.

The panto has its moments, for example, Sweep singing Nessun Dorma - and if you listen carefully you can hear Puccini spinning in his grave – or the entire audience being sprayed with water by Sooty and Cadell aided by enthusiastic Grand theatre staff spraying gleefully from stalls to Gods . . . just remember, we know your names and where you work! You won’t always have panto to protect you . . . just mentioning it . . . come one dark night in February . . .

Then there are the obligatory children brought up from the audience, this time the pair to be interviewed by Muddles were Christopher and Freya. Freya was a charming little girl while Christopher was brilliant, with unexpected answers to leave Muddles helpless.

Such as a quiz between boys and girls. Girl’s question: what is the currency of Botswana? Not surprisingly, Frey had no idea – hands up anyone who knew it was the Pula.

Boy’s question: what ingredient is in a CHEESE sandwich?

Christopher’s answer . . . pickle.

Are you from the posh part of Wolverhampton or the dodgy part? Christopher: “Dodgy”. You couldn’t script it.

The five piece band under musical director Kelvin Towse made a great sound and there was good support from the eight strong ensemble and youngsters from The Classic Dance Academy.

Tom Johnson’s lighting was dramatic and precise, as it had to be with special effects from The Twins FX, Ben Harrison’s sound was well balanced and it was all set off with that marvelous set from Ian Westbrook and 3D Creations.

All in all it is a delight, a night of panto magic for young and old. To 12-01-2019.

Roger Clarke


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