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Sleeping Beauty (Eastbourne, Devonshire Park Theatre)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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There is something very special about the Devonshire Park pantomime, something that is difficult to put into mere words, but which you feel as soon as you walk through the foyer doors. It’s a combination of the very warm welcome, the familiarity of everything and, at the same time, a palpable air of uncertainty that makes it feel almost like spending Christmas Day with the family.

Helping that feeling along is the simply brilliant script by Chris Jordan and Ian Marr. With up-to-the-minute topical references interspersed with jokes that are older than I am, it hits the spot from the moment that Fairy Fortywinks Jenna Boyd explodes onto the stage, with some very dodgy rhyming couplets, and carries us through to the wonderfully traditional finale.

The success of the Eastbourne pantomime also rests squarely on the shoulders of the experienced, and in some cases very familiar, cast members; North London comedian Tucker is a perfect example. With a wealth of panto experience behind him, he takes on the role of Chester the Jester and, with his superb comic skill and a very engaging personality, he soon has the, rather reserved, audience joining in very loudly.

Performing in his second Jordan pantomime is Adam McNab as Prince Valiant. His chiselled jaw and superb singing voice make him every inch the hero and, together with Sasha Wareham as Princess Belle, they soon have the audience gripped in their tale of young love. Taking the role of Belle’s father, King Clarence, is David Alder who shows off his remarkable baritone voice in a few numbers including an unexpected mash-up of Russ Abbot’s 80s party hit "Atmosphere "and the Black Eyed Peas' hit "I’ve got a feeling".

Bernie Nolan is the headliner and, despite the illness that has forced the cancellation of the Nolans' final tour together, she seems in great form as Carabosse. Although a little hesitant at times, she soon relishes the role of the “baddie”, but she could do with a little more volume on her microphone to really scare the audience.

Holding the whole show together, as he has done for nine years now, is the wonderful Martyn Knight as Dame Nellie Night Nurse. Wearing a simply stunning array of costumes, created “in house” by Shelley Stevens and Sam Hart, every entrance he makes is a spectacular event, with the “striptease” scene at the beginning of Act Two an incredible highlight.

I mentioned earlier that the script is what makes this show so marvellously special; this year’s version proves that, as does the way in which, thanks to musical director Robert Cousins, well-known and modern songs are completely re-written. Robbie Williams gets the treatment with his latest hit "Candy" as do David Bowie and The Supremes with the tremendously clever "Ground control to Chester’s Mum, and "Chop, in the name of love" which accompanies the removal of the 100-year old briars around the palace.

Together with the special effects, brilliantly designed lighting, pyrotechnics and a stunning scene with Carabosse summoning up … (no, I won’t spoil the surprise) this all ensure that, yet again, the Devonshire Park has the South East’s premier pantomime.


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