Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

prince and baauty

Freddie Ash as Prince George and Elise Hardwick as Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Sutton Arts Theatre


When it comes to panto this is the Hippodrome of amateur theatre in these parts, a big budget spectacular, well into five figures, full of glitz, glamour, fireworks and no little talent – all the more remarkable from being on a modest sized wysiwyg stage with no wings or flies

The standard is set with the first number from the three fairy godmothers (there’s inflation for you) and choreography that would not look out of place in a professional production. It sets a high bar from the off.

Leading proceedings we have the good, the bad and . . . well the dame, a queen with an age that probably hasn’t increased since last century and whose claims to be a stunner stuns anyone who hears them.

Paul Atkins, Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington three years ago, has been promoted to her madge, which obviously means a better class of frock, lots of them, and wigs, including a Marge Simpson number, from her favourite boutique, Frock Off . . . oh dear.

It is a lovely performance full of traditional dameliness along with a hankering for Roy on the second row, a gentleman who will probably remember not to get seats anywhere near the front when he books for his next pantomime. Queen Lottie is big, brash, a little risqué and quite a mover – and as one who has donned high heels, and frocks, on stage long ago, respect for the dances, Paul.

Adding a supreme dose of silliness with jokes ancient and modern and puns that defy a groan we have another regular, Simon Baker as Chester the Jester. He has the job of keeping the audience on side with his entrance greetings and a topical touch with the audience calling out if anyone goes near his hand sanitiser.

Baker puts his heart and soul into it, working hard to keep audience participation at maximum volume.

Then we get to the bad and Liz Berriman is just superb as the evil fairy Carabosse who has the audience booing out of her hand – and I love her raven on a stick, Kevin, who flaps his wings and flashes red eyes to add a bit of evil emphasis.

And what a voice Carabosse has, powerful, controlled and hitting every note right on the button. Even the booers were in awe of that performance – professional in every way.

Her snivelling sidekick Pfizer, a bent and cringing Tom Cooper, gives her a sort of evil support, by keeping the boos going, while to balance up the good guys we have Nobby, or to give him his official name, King Norbert, played by Mark Nattrass, who, being married to Lottie, deserved any sympathy going. He is a bit of a wimp if truth be known, but with Lottie around, that is, one suspects, more a survival tactic.

Liz Berriman revelling in the role as the evil Carabosse

Something that Chamberlain Ashley Laight probably keeps in mind as well as he tries to run the household.

Adding weight to the side of the good are the three godmothers, Fairy Starlight, played in the opening performance by Janine Henderson and Fairy Sparkle shining in the hands of Emma Armstrong-Craddock along with Sophie Hillier’s Fairy Sunshine, who has an almost fatal flaw for a panto fairy – she can’t do a rhyme, and that’s a fairy crime, failing time after time, her lines not worth a dime . . .

The trio give us a lovely performance, with good voices and classy dancing, which is not surprising as Janine and Emma, along with Sophie McCoy, who plays Sunshine in some performances, and Anna Stuart are responsible for some excellent choreography that is far from amateur.

Now, amid all this fun and drama, we have to remember that this is a story about Aurora, the princess doomed by Carabosse’s spell that she would be pricked by a spinning wheel before she was 16 and die – a spell modified by the fairies to sleeping 100 years until awakened by a prince’s kiss.

Elise Hardwick, is a lovely Sleeping Beauty and we cleverly see scenes of her growing up behind a scrim during a number from the godmothers. fairies

Emma Armstrong-Craddock as Fairy Sparkle, Fairy Starlight, Janine Henderson and  Sophie Hillier as Fairy Sunshine,

And her prince, George, a suitably regal Freddie Ash, not only is blamed and banished when she dies but has to fight a red-eyed dragon a hundred years on as he tries to rescue her (he has worn well. but time in pantos is relative – just ask Einstein).

George is found again in the future by Chester, Lottie, Nobby and Chamberlain. Their time travel launched by a rousing blast of Time Warp from Rocky Horror, before their trip Back to the Future in a DeLorean, which was obviously too big to get on stage so all we saw was the gull wing door.

Luckily it all ends happily in the end, Aurora is awakened, marries the Prince, row B Roy escapes unscathed, Carabosse and Pfizer are sent off into the past and children in the audience head off home, happy and excited, and that, after all, is what it is all about.

Written and directed by Dexter Whitehead and wife Emily Armstrong, Sleeping Beauty has a strong, traditional storyline, with some clever moments, while Mark Nattrass, disguised himself as a commoner to design the set, create the cloth artworks and special props.

We also had projections on the back wall (Mark Hinton and Blend Film) set up by Sophie Curran who also set up the extensive pyrotechnics – this is a real flash bang wallop affair including smoke and dry ice.

The stunning costumes are also worth a mention, some hired in but many designed by Emily Armstrong and wardrobe mistress Phebe Jackson.

And let’s not forget the on-song three man orchestra under Musical Director Russel Painter and the oft missed out army of backstage and technical staff no one notices unless things go wrong.

With a technical only yesterday there were a couple of hiccoughs along the way but nothing to detract from what is another Sutton Arts excellent family panto. To 18-12-21.

Roger Clarke


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