Sleeping Beauty

Grand Opera House York
Grand Opera House York

The cast of Sleeping Beauty at the Grand Opera House
Richard Stride as Gertie the Gorgeous

The Grand Opera House’s pantomime prides itself on being a traditional family show. Masterminded by director Simon Barry and New Pantomime Productions, it certainly ticks all the classic boxes, but falls short of being a classic night out.

Matt Dallen is a winning central presence as Chester the Jester, enthusiastically putting across some suitably dreadful puns and keeping the audience’s energies up through all the familiar routines. His real-life fiancée, Carly Nickson, is a similarly smiley Fairy Sparkle, though the character hovers somewhere between the classic panto tropes of dottiness and reliability; she’s likeable but not a memorable creation.

The same goes for the prince, David Heath from way-back-when X Factor boyband Eton Road. He can certainly deliver a song, and the ballads get the younger female portion of the audience sighing (though they are presumably too young really to remember him the first time round).

On the whole, though, his character is disappointingly inert, though the script is clever enough to set up one moment of real comedy at his expense. He and Princess Beauty (Amy Morris) are made to carry out a ‘freeze frame’ while Dallen’s jester torments the young performer, commenting on Heath’s tendency to corpse and setting off just such a fit of giggles. This is a glimmer of the real joy of pantomime, but elsewhere the production sadly underuses this rich dynamic of the confident, less-known entertainer teasing the TV talent show runner-up’s essential inability to act.

Syd Little is a charmingly dead-pan presence as the father, King Egbert. As soon as he enters, he’s asking the mums and dads, ‘Hands up who thought I was dead.’ At 70 years of age, he’s a pleasingly reluctant figure, particularly during the best comic sequence of the production, the Twelve Days of Christmas. This chaotic segment is an audience favourite and the four cast members involved play their roles within it to a tee; it’s the only routine which provokes genuine hysterics all round.

The other star presence is provided by Emmerdale’s Deena Payne as the evil witch Carabosse. Vocally, she’s spot on, with a perfect shriek and cackle to her voice. Again where she’s let down is in the writing, which leaves the character wandering on and off; and at the end she is simply too easily overcome, the menace evaporating arbitrarily as the production ticks past the two-hour mark.

While, as mentioned, all the comic sequences are present and correct, the fact that the production does not credit a writer is perhaps in some ways telling. At several points we are given arbitrary scenes which don’t advance the overall narrative of the Sleeping Beauty story in any way, with a sense of treading water accompanying many of the song and dance numbers. Pantos don’t have to be coherent, but at least some sense of purpose and storytelling does help audiences (particularly the younger ones at whom this is targeted). So when everybody wakes up after the designated 100 years, Carabosse arbitrarily has to send Sleeping Beauty back to sleep for a further unspecified snooze.

Furthermore, only one or two lines really generate belly laughs, with most of the script comprised of somewhat tired and tried gags and routines—I remember being unmoved by many of the jokes from the schoolroom scene even when I first heard them decades ago. Hopefully, as the production beds in, some of the more awkward sequences will be excised.

The family, community element is emphasised by the presence of an impressive and young local dance corps, choreographed by Jessica Francis Jackson and captained by Emily Taylor. The older members throw themselves into the fun routines with charm, and the younger ones are well-drilled and certainly have the ‘ahh’ factor.

The music, too, is ably coordinated by Chris Hocking, with multiple clever re-workings of modern (and slightly older) classics, such as the witty dance-off between the forces of good and evil as they watch over the sleeping princess.

But with the subsequent final showdown a damp squib and, throughout, no real gunge or custard pies hitting home, it’s a too-safe and too-inconsequential addition to the already crowded York pantomime scene.

Reviewer: Mark Love-Smith

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