Rep produce a real beauty

Fairy Goody (Jenna Augen) makes a point to the Table Slave (Dan Willis)

Sleeping Beauty

Birmingham Rep

Crescent Theatre


SLEEPING Beauty has its dark undertones with human-eating ogres and man-eating thorns along with a baby-eating Queen (there's lots of people eating) along with magic and wicked spells, but apart from that it is all good fun and great entertainment  – unless you happen to be a donkey, goat, cat or rat.

It has goodies and baddies, some Monty Pythonesque humour, such as the Table Slave (Dan Willis) who has had his head stuck through a table for the past 17 years, in an intriguing telling of a traditional story which keeps you interested with plenty of laughs along the way.

Writer Rufus Norris has gone back more than 300 years to Charles Perrault's version of 1697 for the inspiration for this wonderful production which is part of the Rep's Christmas double header.

This is aimed at older children, seven and up, while The Snowman, which opens at  Symphony Hall on December 16 provides a Christmas treat for a younger starting age.

Our guide for the whole affair is Goody (Jenna Augen) who appears to be a Yorkshire Fairy  - aren't they all?  (sorry, as a Lancastrian I just couldn't let that one pass) – who also has a magic related digestive problem which manifests itself in the shape, or rather sounds and smells of a gastronomically expressive bottom.

All right she farts whenever she does a spell and that is a surefire roll about laughing trigger for any small child – or blokes up to the age of  . . .  well death really. We really are simple souls at heart.

Goody is a bit of a tatty old fairy with worn battered wings but she does what she can to help out which is what got her in trouble in the first place.

The fateful prick on the finger for Princess Beauty (Alex Clatworthy) minutes before her 16th birthday when she would have been safe

Long ago she did a favour for a childless king (Gregory Gudgeon) and his haughty Queen (Elizabeth Marsh) conjuring up not only an instant immaculate conception but (flash, bang) an eight month pregnancy to boot which got her an invite as guest of honour to the naming day.

Except the invite was only from the king and he was under the thumb of the Queen who put her foot down, probably a pointed, very sharp stiletto, and said no fairy. But Goody turns up in any case and after a bit of argy bargy with the royal matriarch lays a spell on the baby Princess Beauty in a fit of pique ordaining that the princess will prick her finger on a spindle before she is 16, sleep for 100 years and will only then be awakened by a kiss from a prince.

And there you go, the plot is plotted.

The production cleverly uses flashbacks as Goody tells the tale to various princes in the hope they can awaken the sleeping beauty and right the wrong she had done her.

Sadly the Prince of Nerves (Nicholas Goode) was eaten by the neighbourhood ogre  (Jofre Alsina) while the Prince of Nerds, (Tomm Coles) - and he truly was – was composted by the protective thorns.

All seemed lost until there appeared what seems to be a Glaswegian Ogress (Moyo Akandé) disguised as a human, not that successfully if one is honest, who popped up heavy with child and gives birth to the half human/half ogre Prince (Ciarán Owens).

So Goody is left with the problem of first getting the prince to kiss the sleeping princess beauty, (Alex Clatworthy), and when that goes well she then has the added problem that the happy couple marry and have two kids, probably have a Mondeo on the drive - the whole shooting match.

Ahhh, you might say except the Queen is an Ogress, remember? That leaves Goody to protect Beauty and the Prince and their two children, imaginative puppets by Rachael Canning incidentally, from the old royal personage who has her own version of the Glasgow kiss which involves lots of love bites . . . and chewing and swallowing as she eats her way through her nearest and dearest.

But as in all good fairy stories it all sorts itself out and everyone lives happily ever after - apart from the donkey, goat, cat and rat (I can't explain - you really need to see it), the Ogress and the Ogre and I suppose the two princes who never made it through to the second act.

The direction from Sarah Esdaile keeps things moving at a cracking pace while Etta Murfutt's choreography manages to control some big crowd scenes without the stage looking the Holte End.

The King (Gregory Gudgeon) and Queen (Elizabeth Marsh) lose their daughter Beauty to Goody's sleeping spell

The music from Catherine Jones had a mediaeval sound to it and as is becoming the norm these days the band was the cast. Actors have to multi task and play at least one instrument these days . . . and sing and dance . . . oh, and can you juggle or do magic?

The design by Francis O'Connor, complemented by Paul Pyant's clever lighting, cleverly utilises the auditorium to the full with slides down both side aisles, ramps, trap doors in the stage and a magical spinning wheel with its own hypnotic light display while the costumes, like the music, gave a feel of centuries long gone by.  Mind you I suspect the thorns in their skintight outfits will be watching what they eat for the next few weeks.

An excellent cast, well directed and a cracking script. What more could you ask It is magic.

The baddies will not frighten horses or, more importantly, children yet there is enough to provide the darker, more sinister side every fairy story needs or how else can good triumph over evil as it always will.

Kids, and their parents, will love it. To 14-01-12

Roger Clarke

And from the other side of the forest . . .


IT was the windiest night of the New Year  when I popped into the Crescent Theatre with my grandchildren to see this extraordinary production by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company.

But, after settling into our seats in the auditorium, what did we get? Even more turbulence as scruffy fairy Goody suffered an attack of flatulence each time she cast a spell. That's her style in the story by Rufus Norris, based on Charles Perrault's original tale.

You could say there is a wind of change in the much-loved children's fantasy about a Princess who pricks her finger and is put to sleep for a hundred years by a malicious spell.

But there is much more to this very clever show than a noisy fairy, and it must be said that Jenna Augen is a real gem as Fairy Goody. She is a definite star, amusing with her Yorkshire accent and impressing with her singing voice. Definitely not bottom of the class here.

This show is for children over seven years old because it can be very scary with a fearsome-looking roaring Ogre (Jofre Alsina) and his blood-thirsty Ogress (Moyo Akande). One much younger child, with her parents near the stage, spent quite some time howling.

The set is superb, even magical, with trapdoors on stage and long slides each side of the theatre down which some cast members made unusual entries into the action. Smart puppets as well.

In this story the Prince who reaches the castle where Beauty (Alex Clatworthy) is in her long sleep doesn't like girls and has to be encourage by Fairy Goody to deliver that vital kiss.

Fine performances, too, from Gregory Gudgeon (King) and Elizabeth Marsh (Queen), and how good it is to see so many of the cast able to play musical instruments on stage,

Directed by Sarah Esdaile, Sleeping Beauty - the Rep's first Christmas production outside their normal home, during construction work - runs to January 14. See it and hear it.

Paul Marston

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