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Sleeping Beauty (Ipswich, New Wolsey Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Peter Rowe's Christmas tradition for the New Wolsey Theatre has long been a succession of rock 'n' roll pantomimes. This treatment has usually worked very well, though the 2012 take on the story of Sleeping Beauty is less successful. We begin plump in the middle of the Victorian era – 1866 to be as precise as Rowe specifies – which of course cues the script to land its characters right in the Swinging Sixties after the interval passage of 100 years.

That gives designer Diego Pitarch the chance to go to town with variations on the ubiquitous Carnaby Street and Mary Quant dress style and the DayGlo stage costumes affected by the likes of the Beatles and Elvis Presley, not to mention their fans and imitators. The basic set itself is more muted in tone, though infected with a whole gallery of clocks. There's a clever nod in the direction of 19th century stage costumes in the bustled outfits sported by Fairy Fanciful (Esther Biddle) and Morgana (Karen Mann).

Rowe has presented Fanciful with an apprentice, Fredericka. Sarah Mahoney makes this Mallory Towers escapee a whirlwind of pigtails and mis-matched socks, wielding her wand as though it was a hockey-stick. She's the best-written character in the whole piece. Our heroine is Princess Susie, with whom Lily Howard does as much as is possible; the prince who rescues her turns out to the the pleasant-enough foundling Simon Steadfast (Peter Manchester) brought up by Will Kenning's rough-edged Dame Taffeta Trott.

Director Rob Salmon makes full use of the theatre's grave-traps and, of course, a New Wolsey pantomime wouldn't be the same without a full complement of rod puppet livestock – the hard-working stage managers and crew thoroughly deserve their own round of applause. All the cast step easily from spotlighted performer to instrumentalist and vocalist. The best numbers are "Happy birthday, sweet sixteen" and Simon's prize song "Stand by me". Sean Kingsley's King Camelot displays tap-dancing ability as well as a tonsorial variation on Don Quixote.


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