Anyone of a delicate disposition will do well to avoid the Pavilion Theatre for the next few weeks as UK Productions Sleeping Beauty blasts on to the stage, signalling the start of the silly season in Bournemouth. A combination of vastly improved acoustics in the old auditorium, volume ramped up to ear splitting proportions, and several hundred screaming children whipped up into a frenzy, makes for a raucous evening indeed!
This is unashamedly traditional fare and in its two and a bit hours running time, deals with the significant plot points (Princess Rose is cursed at birth, then on the eve of her 18th birthday pricks her finger on a poisoned spinning wheel and is sent to sleep for a hundred years, only to be woken by true love’s kiss) in little more than 10 minutes total, leaving plenty of time for classic panto business. This is no bad thing, as Sleeping Beauty is perhaps one of the weakest stories of any of the fairy tales that are the source of our modern day pantomimes, and contains many plot holes that would undoubtedly raise many difficult-to-answer questions from inquisitive and literal little minds, if they were given time to study the story too deeply.
In a clever script by Andrew Ryan and Chris Jarvis this show is crammed full of the set piece slapstick and references to popular culture that delight the kiddies - the ubiquitous Gangnam style even reaches the 17th century court of King Littledown here! There is also, of course, plenty of topical local satire, saucy double entendre, and homages to the cast’s past glories (Dr Who, Hi De Hi, Benidorm etc.) to entertain the grown-ups.
Leading the cast, the ebullient Su Pollard burns up the stage, revelling in an orgy of wickedness, as Carabosse, the bad fairy, pummelling the audience into submission and working the children up to fever pitch every time she appears. Colin Baker makes a fine “blokey” Dame, enjoying many of the best comedy routines, along with Chris Jarvis (Happy Harry), who also directs the piece, and who is so impossibly talented and skilled in the art of pantomime, that things keep steaming ahead with a firm hand on the tiller. Able support comes from Michael Chance as King Littledown (a local reference) and Kate Weston, in a particularly assured performance as the Good Fairy, managing to hold her own against the behemoth Carabosse.
Rubbing shoulders with and learning from the old pros, the love interest is supplied by panto debutantes Jenna Moore (Princess Rose) and Asa Elliott (the Prince). Elliott, fresh from Neptunes Bar, Benidorm, throws himself into his role with great gusto, and if he is perhaps a little too full on ‘action hero’ rather than fairy tale prince, Jenna’s nicely understated Princess balances the paring out and brings their romance back down to a more natural level – important when all the characters around them are so much larger than life.
There are some nice animated sequences, plenty of aerial work, song, dance, and most importantly lots of spectacle, with no expense spared on the rich costumes and sets. The Stage Door School of Dance and Drama again supply a talented bunch of little performers to act as the smaller villagers and work especially well with Jarvis' Happy Harry, who has such a natural and delightful rapport with the children.
If there is any doubt of the value of pantomime in modern theatre, you need only take a look at this prime example; A class act, playing to a house full of screaming, totally engaged, totally captivated children. There is no better way to get the little ones in the mood for Christmas than panto, and to introduce a little magic into life in these austere times is priceless. Expensive toys and gadgets will probably lay broken and discarded by Boxing Day, but for the price of a theatre ticket, the joy and excitement from one good pantomime performance can live in the heart for a lifetime.
Great fun - even for those of us unaccompanied by little folk. The thought of not having to deal with those over excited kids when they get home after Ms Pollard’s bad fairy has done with them is enough to bring a smile to the lips of even those with the hardest of hearts! Merry Christmas!