Sleeping Beauty

Theatre Royal, York

Babbies and bairns of all ages, rejoice! Berwick's in his bloomers and all's right with the world, or at least as much of the world as can be fitted into the Theatre Royal. I last saw a panto in 1966 and had forgotten how very, VERY strange the genre is, so it was rather fitting that in this version of the tale Princess Beauty (a previously unknown daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) wakes up in a gloriously OTT version of the Swinging Sixties. But I'm getting ahead of myself, probably because my brain is still reeling from the futile effort of trying to follow the plot. (The fact that I even attempted to follow a panto plot demonstrates just how out of practice I was.)

Devotees of the Theatre Royal panto - and they are legion - will know that for many years the show has revolved around the legendary Dame of Berwick Kaler (Queen Vic), his gormless sidekick Martin Barrass (who usually plays Berwick's son but this year has been promoted to the role Prince Albert), gloriously hissable villain David Leonard (Evil Edna/Hips Libido) and our lovely heroine Suzy Cooper. Vincent Gray notches up his third appearance in York's panto in the role of Funky the Flunkey, and displays some nifty footwork in what the programme describes as the River Ouse Dance. Newcomer Lucy Hunter-James is a real crowd-pleaser in the dual role of Good Fairy Sleepy Jean and Beauty's handsome Prince - she is a strong vocalist with all the attributes of the classic Principal Boy, namely an incredibly long pair of legs and the ability to slap her thigh with exactly the right degree of sauciness. Rory Dan Wilder makes his panto debut as loyal royal retainer Gobbo, Evil Edna's big-eared son, and if the performance I saw was typical he is undergoing a baptism of fire. The plot calls for Gobbo to disguise himself as Sherlock Holmes, and his scenes with Berwick can best be described as The Case of the Improvising Thespian!

The madness unfolds in front of, underneath, inside and behind Nigel Hook's outstanding sets. The palace scenes must have used up North Yorkshire's entire stock of glitter, Evil Edna's lab - situated inside a Fylingdales golfball - is pure Austin Powers, and Swinging London is patrolled by the Carnabetian Army (dressed by the same outfitters as Sergeant Pepper's musical combo). We even get a glimpse of Bronte Country, which not only provides a habitat for a lonely dodo but gives Berwick an excuse to dress up as Kate Bush and sing Wuthering Heights whilst dangling from a wire.

Needless to say, after a wild chase through time and space - the Tardis makes a brief guest appearance - everyone lives happily ever after except Evil Edna, who suffers the awful fate of being eaten by Puff the Magic Dragon. It's all over bar the traditional hurling of Wagon Wheels into the audience (I didn't get one but I'm not bitter) and the Singalong, then out we go into the night wondering when Berwick Kaler will be offered the Honorary DBE he so richly deserves.

Last performance 29th January 2005

Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson

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