Empire Theatre Sunderland’s annual pantomime, this year, comes from the reliable UK Productions stable providing all the traditional ingredients such a glitzy show should offer. Sleeping Beauty was warmly received by a packed auditorium of excited youngsters on press night.
Sleeping Beauty tells the well-known story of a Princess (Amy-Leigh Hickman) who is cursed by evil witch Carabosse (Vicky Entwistle) and is in danger of death if she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel before she turns 18. Thankfully the Princess has a Fairy Godmother (Faye Tozer) that changes the curse so that if the Princess does prick her finger, she’ll go to sleep for 100 years rather than die.
As is tradition with panto, the plot is merely a vehicle to hang the set pieces and jokes on whilst keeping the audience’s attention. The show mixes in pop culture references with well-known songs, regional mentions such as Fairy Primarni from Marley Pots to the brilliantly-named King Winston of Witherwack and topical jokes.
The first act of this well known fairy tale whizzes along at breakneck speed, the cast are on fire and the chemistry between them is fun, it’s great to see them all attacking the show with plenty of energy and commitment. None more so than from the excellent Andrew Agnew as Silly Billy, he whizzes around the stage like a Duracell bunny on speed, he has a great rapport with the audience and never fails to bring a sense of mischief to proceedings with his slapstick humour and infectious audience interaction.
Vicky Entwistle’s delightfully evil Carabosse steals the show and performs brilliantly whenever she’s onstage – on the ground, in the air, singing. Imagine Janice Battersby playing Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent and you’ll get the idea. She can sing and she has a fabulous pair of legs for her high kicking dance number.
With Princess Rose kissed and awoken ten minutes into the second act, extra plot is required to fill the remaining scenes. Here, in the lead up to the Royal Wedding, Carabosse decides to kidnap the Happy Couple and marry the Prince, only to be thwarted when Princess Rose escapes and revives Prince Phillip with true love’s kiss.
Marcus Knibbs, as the King, gives a jolly performance and his rap attack with Silly Billy is a real highlight. Amy-Leigh Hickman and Arthur Boan as Sleeping Beauty and the Prince are a well matched and a believable couple. And Bobby Crush is outstanding as Nurse Nelly, the outfits are as fabulous as a Dame should be and his flirting with Danny in the audience is hilarious. For me, it was a shame, that he only had a tiny segment in which he could play piano – and I would have liked to have seen and heard more. Faye Tozer’s Fairy Snowflake was good – with her script packed with Step’s references and she got to sing a Steps medley during the show.
The Kathleen Davis Stage School, Muriel Harrison School of Dance and Drama and the Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts provided the dancing village children – including a tiny tot who played an adorable lamb.
Packed to the rafters with joke after joke and obligatory digs at the local area the humour is well balanced for the children as well as the adults in the audience. The visual highlight of the show is during the Prince’s time travelling journey, utilising a clever use of lighting and projections. Directed by Andrew Agnew he has delivered a fast-paced and slickly produced pantomime that provides plenty of fun – the magic mirror scene is a hoot and a stunning lighting design brings plenty of colour to the proceedings. An enjoyable evening in Pantoland with a first-rate cast. At two hours forty five minutes including the interval it is a little long and some of the younger members of the audience start to lose their attention spans towards the conclusion of the evening. But for an evening of family fun it would be hard to beat.
Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes
SLEEPING BEAUTY plays at the Sunderland Empire until 31 December 2016