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Sleeping Beauty (Hornchurch Queen's Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Visually Sleeping Beauty works splendidly, thanks to Mark Walters’ designs. It also has a well thought-out and coherent story (by Nicholas Pegg) – even if the heroine, Princess Aurora (Sarah Scowen), is offstage for most of the second act – and original music and lyrics by Carol Sloman. There’s an absent-minded Fairy Forget-me-not (Lucy Thackeray, pretty in pastels and henin headdress) and the evil Fairy Carabosse (Jane Milligan, in full-fronted, full-throated dominatrix mode). Out hero is no prince but Tom (Elliott Harper), son of Nanny Clutterbuck (Chris MacDonell).

MacDonnell’s is a deep-voiced Dame who sports a wondrous sequence of costumes, courtesy of Jean Roberts, and stands no nonsense from either King Boris (Marcus Webb), Tom or lad-of-all-work Silly Billy (Simon Jessup). Jessup and Webb have a very good routine, that I think is a new one, which involves a great number of plates getting broken in the third scene (you don’t need a party in a Greek restaurant these story-book days, just a non-denominational baby blessing ceremony).

The final scene of the first act takes us up and upwards to the top of the turret in which Carabosse lurks. The revolving set which provides this deserves its own round of applause, as does the first ferocious then friendly dragon in Act Two. Costumes for the human characters are mainly in red and white, though Aurora wears soft sky shades. Fight director Michael Ranson has Tom and Carabosse battling it out not just on stage but right across the auditorium. You need a degree of realism for such close encounters, both in the swordplay and in the clothes. It worked.

In the old days, when principal boys were played by girls, it was requisite that masculinity was denoted by thigh-slapping as well as high boots. Harper has obviously been directed by Matt Devitt to continue the tradition. Other time-honoured moments are also firmly in place – much interplay with the audience (including roping one hapless punter in as the focus of jokes and exchanges), a shower of sweets hurled into our midst, the song-sheet and so on. The youngsters who make up the chorus sing well and cope admirably with Emily Parker’s choreography.

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