Little Wolf Entertainment Ltd
Loughborough Town Hall
From 29 November 2014 to 04 January 2015
Review by Simon Sladen
First staged as a pantomime in 1822, Sleeping Beauty is 2014's fifth most popular title and when productions of the tale are as enchanting as Little Wolf Entertainment's, it is easy to see why.
In their sixth pantomime season and second in Loughborough, Little Wolf Entertainment has all the hallmarks of a company highly skilled in the presentation of pantomime and passionate about entertaining audiences.
The Town Hall's Sleeping Beauty is a luxurious affair with costumes of the highest quality and an exquisite set that makes the most of the venue's small stage. Encrusted in glitter, a series of beautifully designed gauzes and cloths conjure up Rose Gardens and Nurseries, whilst an effective revolve creates not only the interior of the Palace, but also the Topmost Turret in which Carabosse's wicked deed takes place.
Evolving before the audience's very eyes, the transforming scenery is all part of the show's rich tapestry of visuals and there is excellent use of traps to transport both people and props. The utilisation of these simplistic yet effective devices keeps the actions flowing and the audience engaged as the production comes alive scene after scene.
Responsible for Sleeping Beauty's design and script, Morgan Brind also takes on the role of Nurse Nancy Nightley. A driving force behind the show, his Dame is matronly and motherly, dressed in an array of inventive costumes from 'cocktail' dresses to teddy bear's picnics, he brings a sense of old school charm to the role.
Together with Roddy Peters's Stan Laurel-cum-Mr Bean inspired Mervin the Magician, Brind delivers much of the show's comedy—the partnership of Peters's Comic with Brind's Dame working well due to the contrast in characterisation. Their wallpapering slosh scene is timed to perfection, with both performers understanding the importance of action and reaction as planks become misplaced and paper mispasted.
As well as the show's comedy, there is also the much-needed romance provided by Ashley Emerson's dashing Prince Vince and Rachael Henley's friendly Princess Rose. The two play their roles with honesty and integrity and indeed one of the show's most tender moments comes in the form of a musical montage depicting the lovers' friendship and progression from childhood to adulthood.
This production of Sleeping Beauty never patronises its audience and expands the tale to give key aspects of the narrative clear reasoning. Carabosse's anger at a forgotten invitation is given added malice in that she is King Darren's sister and no longer the next in line to the throne after the death of Queen Beatrice and birth of Princess Rose.
Likewise, the plot device that sees Prince Vince banished from the kingdom after discovering the sleeping Princess Rose and being accused of her demise enables him to return upon graduation from Knight School to use his fencing skills to destroy Carabosse's thorny briar, conjured up from Merlin's floral failure.
The addition of Nurse Nancy's gift of a guard dragon also makes for many a wonderful moment, none more so than in act two when transported forward in time, Prince Vince encounters the now eight-foot-tall and 100-year-old St John, inverting the usual narrative that sees Carabosse transform into a wicked dragon.
These touches give the script greater integrity and, with Prince Vince kidnapped by Carabosse in the second act, it is a welcome change to see the awoken Princess Rose lead the charge to rescue her Prince.
Katy Sobey's engaging Fairy Lights, Steve Giles's eccentric King Darren and Stephanie Racine's evil Carabosse complete the fine-voiced cast with Will Cousins's myriad roles demonstrating his versatility as a performer.
In a show full of love and laughter, Little Wolf Entertainment's Sleeping Beauty sets the standard for regional pantomime and reminds us of the genre's power to captivate and capture the imaginations of audiences young and old alike.