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Sleeping Beauty (Park Theatre)

The Park Theatre's first annual panto, running until 19 January, is an "enjoyable piece of surreal theatrical lunacy"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Pantomime isn't always going to be everyone's cup of tea but Sleeping Beauty at the Park Theatre doesn't conform to the traditional formula. A classic tale turns into an enjoyable piece of surreal theatrical lunacy that would make even the most panto-averse chuckle into their programme.

Jez Bond and Mark Cameron wrote and directed this show, which begins in Finsbury park where the theatre is based, cleverly merging the drama with reality. It's here that we meet an old lady waiting for a bus, who recalls the story of a cursed young princess and a handsome young prince; soon we are transported into the world of Wa.

The production makes the most of the Park Theatre's small performance space to create a more intimate relationship between the audience and the larger-than-life characters than panto in a big theatre could possibly allow. The projection screen at the back of the stage adds depth and movement to the space while also serving as the traditional panto backcloth.

This play makes the most of its north London setting with jokes about life in Finsbury Park, bus passes, the Arsenal and Sue Barker. A fresh touch of topical and contemporary humour is blended with the fairytale.

Breaking with panto tradition, the principal boy in this production really is a boy. Craig Fletcher is both slyly witty and funny as the love-struck prince masquerading as a mad professor and only succeeding in getting himself deeper and deeper into farcical confusion. Aimee Gray as the princess mostly plays it straight, performing her role as one of gentle sanity in the sea of mad antics going on all round her.

Caroline Deverill is magnificently evil as the wicked witch, and she also takes on the role of the six inches shorter and sweeter old lady who is telling us the story. Her dyspeptic moaning monologues open and close the show.

The whole performance is anchored by the Laurel and Hardy style partnership of co-writer Mark Cameron as Dame ‘Ottom' and Matthew Cavendish as her child Ernie.

All in all, an ironically fun night at the theatre, despite it at times being truly ridiculous. There is plenty of audience participation at this family friendly show.