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The Sleeping Beauty (Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Producer Martin Dodd and UK Productions have taken the traditional Christmas pantomime and dragged it, kicking, screaming and rapping, firmly into the 21st century. With a musical soundtrack featuring chart-toppers by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Olly Murs, One Direction and Maroon 5 – and even a royal proclamation rap – this has to be one of the most modern productions out this Christmas.

As soon as the audience enters the auditorium, it becomes obvious that this show is offering something very new as the glittery curtain is actually a projected image. Having said that, alongside the modern songs, flying wires, pyrotechnics, fire and gas cannons and fantastic lighting effects, care has been taken to incorporate many of the more traditional scenes and set-pieces.

Opening the show is Julie Stark as the good fairy who, together with young dancers from the McAllister Brown Dance School, introduces us to Fairyland and to the baby Princess Briar-Rose. The christening is interrupted by the explosive arrival of Glynis Barber, as the bad fairy Demonia, who curses the child and terrifies the audience, leaving the King Christopher Beeny to spend years worrying about his daughter’s fate.

Children’s television presenter Derek Moran makes a perfect Silly Billy. He connects with the children in the audience and has them eating out of his hands in no time. While he is taking care of the children, the adults in the audience have Nanny Glucose Charles Burden to look after them. With his outrageous costumes, flirty attitude and some very near-the-knuckle jokes, he dominates the stage and, combined with Moran, they make a fantastic traditional pantomime double-act.

Sophia Thierens and Owen Woodgate as the title character and her eventual saviour, Prince Philip, both have great voices for delivering the musical numbers, but are totally lacking in chemistry, making it difficult to see them as falling in love at first sight. Woodgate seems to relax much more in the second act and, in the extremely clever scene where he flies forward in time, proves himself to be a master of the aerial wires.

Constantly in the background are the female dancers Rosie Fletcher, Lucy Terrell, Brooke Wells, Bethany Knight and their male colleagues Ben Fenner and Danny-Boy Hatchard. I wouldn’t usually list them all like that but, as they all work so hard and are mostly teenagers, in many cases, still studying dance – they deserve all the credit they can get.

The massively enthusiastic reaction from the teenagers in the audience is testament to the modern nature of this production and it is obvious that the entire cast are thrilled to be reaching a part of the audience who, all too often, find themselves forgotten.


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