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

Hiss and boo and all that jazz

sleeping beauty cast

Partners in panto: Jester Dai (Ryan Alan Dunn), Harrison Ronald Harold Prince (Jack Heath), Witch Magnificent (Katharine Williams), Balders (Charlotte Crowe) and Dame Nanny Numbkin (Ryan Knight). Pictures: Roy Palmer

Sleeping Beauty

Hall Green Little Theatre


WHEN you have more witches than Macbeth and enough good fairies to keep Disney going for years the scene is set for a battle between good an evil . . . and lots of shouts, boos, hisses and cheers from an enthusiastic audience.

And the audience helped in any way they could, as, for example, when Harrison (Harrison Ronald Hubert Prince – HRH Prince . . . geddit!) prevaricated with some romantic tosh as the princess slept on under the evil spell.

As he waffled on the audience cut out the middleman, in this case scriptwriter and director Dean Taylor, and told him in no uncertain terms to just kiss her and be done with it. Great fun.

Indeed the cast had to contend with plenty of advice, comments and asides as they told their tale of woe, despair and redemption - oh, yes it was! Oh no it . . . I really should get out more.

As a panto it follows traditional lines with a few asides thrown in, such as an appearance by Snow White, played by Alice Abrahall, who also cast her spell as Witch Delores.

Snow White, was just passing through, presumably on her way to another panto at this busy time of year although Merlin, played with ancient wizardry gusto by David Hirst, is hardly a panto regular, so was probably quite grateful for a bit of seasonal employment.

If there is a Merlin, of course, you have to have King Arthur, played bywitch and balders Stephen Head, and Queen Guinevere, played by Lucy Poulter. Arthur is a bit short of knights, and indeed tables, and is hardly the sort of dynamic bloke you would expect to rule Britain, so it is no surprise when he is tricked, not that hard, by Magnificent the Witch, played by Katherine Williams in a stand-out performance.

Katherine Williams is a fine Witch Magnificent aided by Charlotte Crowe as her servant Balders.

Her witch has a sort of offhand evil streak and commands the stage whenever she appears with her intellectually challenged servant-type person, Balders, played by Charlotte Crowe.

Magnificent’s cohorts on the dark side are witches Tabatha, Kelly Neech, Agnes, a Scottish hag who loves torture and pain, played by Shampa Paul, the aforementioned Delores and, just to show Magnificent is an equal opportunities employer, Geoff Nunnery as a Warlock.

Meanwhile on the side of the angels, or at least King Arthur we have the fairies, Old played by Allish Reel, Nuff – Fairy Nuff geddit – played by Ann Hickman, who managed a tongue-twisting complicated spell and counterspell speech with aplomb, and finally, with hands that do dishes we had Sarah as Fairy Liquid.

And, we all know there is nothing like a dame, and this dame comes in the guise of Nanny Numbkin, played with a sense of fun by Ryan Knight, who showed good timing and built up an impressive rapport with the audience.

Helping, and hindering in equal measure is his/her none-too bright son Jester Dai, played by Ryan Alan Dunn.

The good fairies, full of white magic, managed to downgrade the death spell cast on baby Princess Aurora to a lesser fate of sleeping forever – something parent’s of teenagers will understand - until awakened by love’s first kiss.

Thus Lucy O’Neill is sleeping on the job for much of the time as the Princess, although snanny and jesterhe is a sweet young thing when she is disguised as Pandora and hidden away in the enchanted forest to avoid the curse of Magnificent.

For those unfamiliar with the story Aurora is doomed to die, or at least sleep, if she is pricked by the spindle on a spinning wheel before her 18th birthday – a bit of a long shot you might think considering the dearth of spinning wheels these days.

Ryan Knight as Nanny Numbkin with son Jester Dai, played by Ryan Alan Dunn.

But in times of yore, and around Christmas time, pantoland is awash with them.

So off baby Aurora goes into a woodcutters’ cottage with Nanny and Dai to grow into a beautiful princess and avoid the curse, or she would have done so had it not been for a fateful chance meeting with palace cook HRH Prince.

But then we all knew she was going to be found and pricked before her 18th by the forces of evil, it was just a matter of how.

So with the Princess dead to the world, despite lots of thunder and lightning, we have a battle of the wands, booing and ribaldry from the peasantry in the audience, and the traditional everyone living happily ever after, apart from Magnificent who suffers a touch of the Wicked Witch of the Easts, for those who know their Oz.

Adding to the atmosphere, rather like the pianists in the era of the silent movies, we had the superb Geddes Cureton on keyboards while Brian Grant’s imaginative set with castle walls and an ever changing backdrop – Alan Giles and Tom Giles on flies deserve a mention – kept up interest.

A couple of scenes could be speeded up and musical numbers could have been a little shorter, Bad and I’m gonna be (500 miles) in particular but as the audience were happy singing and clapping along who cares.

It all ended with Noddy Holder’s retirement plan, Merry Christmas Everybody to complete a most enjoyable pantomime. The song, incidentally, earned an estimated £512,000 in royalties last year and is already up around the £300,000 mark this year.

The essence of panto is a well told fairy story children can follow, peppered like buckshot with corny jokes and suffering from bouts of silliness, with a few songs people know, plenty of chance for an audience to join in and above all it has to be fun.

There were plenty of modern references and something for kids, teenagers and adults. From the reaction of both children and adults, it managed to tick just about every box. Oh yes it did etc until 20-12-14.

Roger Clarke


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