For eleven months of the year, when you take children to the theatre you always remind them to be quiet during the show; if they have any questions to save them for the interval; not to fidget or kick the seat in front of them; and never to take a fluorescent windmill into the auditorium and set it whirring for two hours. During the other month, however, all bets are off, and you encourage them to shout, chat, jump up and down, and whirr. No wonder some kids grow up confused.
Any children you take to see Sleeping Beauty at the Derngate (on till 5th January 2014) will be in for a real treat. All the usual perfect panto components are there: a dame, a villain, a village idiot, and a fairytale prince and princess. There’s competitive singing, a messy kitchen scene to include porridge down the underpants, a high-tec ghost, loads of “oh yes there is, oh no there isn’t”, a considerable chance of getting water sprayed on you, and some actual real magic too.
The real stand-out moments of this production though are the two 3D sequences, one in each half. They are completely spectacular. The last time we saw 3D in a panto was at Birmingham about four years ago. I can tell you the 3D aspect of this show absolutely knocks spots off that production. It’s vivid, scary, exciting and funny; and the live action of the cast at the same time integrates perfectly with the visual spectacle. Through the 3D specs, the stage looks so huge and the actors appear so tiny in comparison, it really gives an incredible feeling of power and adventure. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what’s in store in 3D-land, but it’s really thrilling. To be honest some of the younger kids found it a little bit scary. I was sitting next to a little girl who up till then was incredibly confident, chatting away to me and finding the show hilarious; but as soon as the 3D came on she fled for the safety of her mother’s lap. There was a little boy sat in front of Mrs Chrisparkle who was so shocked by the 3D apparitions she thought the poor lad was going to need hospitalising. It’s really impressive technology and great fun. They’re comfortable 3D specs too; it was very easy to wear them over my normal glasses. I can only think that the audience must look hilarious from the stage during these sequences though, as we scramble around in our seats reacting to what’s in front of us!
If I have a small criticism of the show (and I guess I do), it would be that perhaps the script was not quite as funny as some of the other recent pantomimes we have seen at the Derngate. It was thoroughly entertaining for the kids but we felt there could have been just a few more of those clever lines that appeal to the adults as well. Having said that, there were some great up-to-date references to Joey Essex and Nigella Lawson to which you give a sharp intake of breath at their irreverence; and the show is performed with such a sense of fun and attack that you still have a terrific time.
Linda Lusardi as the wicked fairy Carabosse makes a great villain; perhaps the glint in her eye is more knowing sexiness than evil witch, but, on the whole, that’s Not A Bad Thing. There’s a sequence where she’s going to try to make one of the male characters fall in love with her: “oh yes I am”, “Oh no you’re not” scream 1000 kids; “Oh yes I am” she says as she flashes a glimpse of fishnet beneath the gown”; “Oh yes you are” I assert, resisting the peer-pressure of 999 fellow audience members. There’s a lot of fun to be had with knowing that Miss Lusardi is married to Sam Kane, who plays Oddjob, with his nausea-stifling, child-like repulsion at the prospect of a spot of Castle Forest intimacy with her. He and Andy Jones as Muddles make an excellent double act – Mr Kane the straight man and Mr Jones the buffoon. Whether it be challenging each other to a duel, or a splattering of custard pie goo down the trousers, they clearly have a lot of fun doing it, and we have a lot of fun watching it.
Shinead Byrne is a rather stunning Princess Beauty with a superb singing voice, and Mrs C assures me that Alex Jordan-Mills as Prince William also scored high on the eye-candy rating. Together they’re going to have the most beautiful children. They sang together really well too – achieving lovely harmonies well in excess of the standard that you might otherwise expect in a panto. Phil Hitchcock is an endearing King Stephen who brings real magic to the stage with some brilliant tricks – I’m always a sucker for magic. Even though we were fairly close to the stage in row E, I couldn’t see how any of his illusions worked. It’s a nice touch to have the wicked fairy defeated by the power of good magic too – very appropriate!
Kim Wall appears as Nurse Dolly. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the programme to read that he was playing this part as he has long been a favourite actor of mine. He was superb in Laurie Sansom’s Ayckbourn season at the Royal in Northampton in 2009 (before I started blogging); and actually, way back in 1979 when I was a first year student I was invited to watch a rehearsal of a production by a young professional company of Steven Berkoff’s “East” in Oxford so that I could write up an article and review for a student newspaper; and it was a young Mr Wall who played the part of Les. I remember being so impressed by his attack and charisma in that play. I’m not sure if he has played a Dame before, but he looked superbly hideous, had a warm connection with the audience and was full of fun and flirtatiousness.
It’s all backed by a happy looking bright ensemble of dancers and singers, and the children from the Mayhew School of Dance were a delight. It’s a really entertaining show, with some great performances and amazing effects. The production values in the show are top quality, from the sets, to the band, to the costumes and of course the superb 3D. Don’t miss it, you’ll love it! Long live panto!