Monday, 15 December 2014

Nottingham Playhouse: Review Sleeping Beauty.

Originally published by The Public Reviews on December 2nd
Given five stars.
In thirty-one years of Nottingham Playhouse presenting the annual pantomime this is only the second time that Sleeping Beauty has been performed. What a fabulous production! It sparkles with light and energy and humour and like the best Panto's should – it sends you home with a huge grin on your face and feeling the child-like magic of Christmas through and through.

Last year writer and director Kenneth Alan Taylor played his last role as pantomime dame to great applause and this time round he brings us an honest story of Sleeping Beauty that is like stepping into a wonderfully alive and exuberant story book. The set designs by Tim Meacock for the Palace, the wonky cottage in the woods (complete with singing wildlife), Maleficent's Lair, the Princess's Bedchamber and for the Grand Finale are knock out gorgeous. All these are enhanced by terrific lighting effects by lighting designer Jason Taylor. Musical director John Morton and his live band bring alive the show with show stopping numbers and the musical romance of the piece.

This year's dame Nurse Tilly Trot is played with gusto by Playhouse panto favourite John Elkington. Elkington has several changes of outrageous costumes and he engages immediately with the audience with his character's 'common touch'. The kids in the audience go crazy when he gets hypnotised by the evil fairy Maleficent and carries out the command to take a spinning wheel into the bedchamber of the princess Rosalind with the result of her being put to sleep for a hundred years. If a thousand children shouting “Nooooo!!!!” at the very tops of their voices would change this dastardly action and consequence then their collective cries should have worked a treat but no, the story must go on!

All but one of the main cast are Playhouse returnees with whom families in Nottinghamshire look forward to seeing each trip to the theatre and they never disappoint. This year the new guy is Jonny Fines playing the part of Prince Alexander – an interesting diversion from the pantomime norm where the Prince is played by an attractive and charming thigh slapping young woman. I really like Fines in this role – his natural good looks, great singing voice and athletic moves make him very sympathetic and the romantic scenes between himself and Princess Rosalind (Kelly Edwards) are very touching and believable as fairy-tale characters falling almost instantly in love.

Kelly Edwards' Princess Rosalind doesn't appear until a little later into the show, because at the beginning she is just a baby, but when she does she is immediately lovable in a bright, energetic, independent modern young Princess way. Edwards' enthusiastic performance certainly helps the show go with a zing. Her athletic song and dance routine with the fantastic Tim Frater as her friend Jerry the Jester is one of the highlights of the show. How they got those wildlife creatures in the bushes to sing and dance along too is a joyous mystery and a great part of the surprise and charm of Nottingham Playhouse's terrific pantomimes.

This year Rebecca Little (formerly principal boy) steps into the wacky shoes of the Queen Gertrude and shows her skills at building a fun older character and she works brilliantly in comic partnership with her stage husband, the expressive and irrepressible Anthony Hoggard as King Hubert. Little retains her rehearsal role as dance captain and together with choreographer and assistant director Adele Parry they bring the dance action superbly to the stage. This is not only with the main cast but with the two expressive and talented teams of young female dancers.

As the two main fairy's we have the good fairy, Fairy Wisheart, played again by Francesca Ellis and the evil fairy Maleficent played by Hannah Whittingham. Ellis is delightfully graceful in the role and as she waves her star topped wand around to good effect I find myself smiling as a little girl in the audience turns to her mum and whispers with a genuinely innocent and child-like enquiry “Is that a real wand mummy?” The mum answered a very believable “yes” with no sense of irony attached. That is the magic of panto in a single wand wave!

Good always triumphs over evil in fairy tales and in panto land and the audience revels in booing and hissing the evil deeds and words of Hannah Whittingham's bad fairy Maleficent all bedecked in a rather sexy black outfit and headpiece of black horns. The superb attention to detail is in all the costumes in this production and is the work of the Playhouse's highly inventive and skilled costume department. It is nice to see Whittingham playing a baddie role again this year. Previously the Nottingham Playhouse pantomime audiences would have seen her playing the title role in Aladdin, Prince Charming in Cinderella, Millie in Robin Hood and The Enchantress in last year's Jack and The Beanstalk.

As the giant snowflakes glitter at the end of this year's thoroughly entertaining Nottingham Playhouse pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, I for one will be going home to bed and will remember this fantastic and truly spectacular panto for a hundred years!

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