Sleeping Beauty (Grand Theatre, Blackpool)

A good panto should impress the whole whole family. The Grand’s ”Sleeping Beauty” does exactly that, says Sandra Mangan.

The department stores have been playing festive songs for weeks now and you’re probably already sick of mince pies, but it isn’t really Christmas until the panto season begins.

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty
© Blackpool Grand

It has truly arrived now, as Sleeping Beauty has arrives at the Grand in Blackpool – oh yes it does – and a packed audience really got into the spirit of things – the night I attended – booing, cheering and yelling ‘Hello Billy’ in all the right places.

Fans of traditional pantomime will find much that’s familiar here – including some corny jokes that even Christmas Cracker makers would probably turn down – but that’s all part of the fun. And don’t forget, a large proportion of the audience is seeing a live stage show for the first time, so everything is magical to them.

These theatre newbies lap it up, if the noise levels are anything to go by. Sure, we could hear the distant rustle of sweet wrappers and even a crying baby close by, but panto is a form to be savoured, whatever your age.

The producers pulled out all the stops in the musical numbers and ran the gamut of generations in the process. We had Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie for the young ‘uns, a pastiche of Auntie Maggie’s "Remedy", made famous by George Formby, for the oldies, and a cast performance of Happy for everyone.

Plot innovations included an appearance by a full-sized Tardis and even a larger than life projected, fire-eating dragon – and that same projection technique was employed to dazzling effect when the handsome Prince Philip was whisked forward 100 years to kiss his sleeping Princess Rose.

But all the technological trickery in the world is useless if the cast isn’t up to the task in hand. Thankfully the team here do a grand job, with Hayley Kay as Fairy Snowflake and Steve Royle as Silly Billy giving the standout performances of the night.

The sumptuously costumed Jennifer Ellison is booed to the rafters as Caraboose and appears to relish it – although I was a little disappointed that this star of West End musicals wasn’t given more chances to show off her vocal talents skills.

Phoebe Lewis and Lewis Bradley are a heartwarming Princess and Prince, and Michael Chance as the King and Nick Wilton as Nurse Nelly offer sterling support – but a special mention must go out for the lovely little dancers from the locally-based Barbara Jackson Theatre Arts Centre, who display a stage presence and skill way beyond their years.

There was, surprisingly, no principal boy and I never once heard ‘he’s behind you!’, but the excited chatter from the young theatregoers as they left the theatre was enough to warm even Scrooge’s heart. On this showing, panto is alive and well – and flourishing.

Sleeping Beauty is at the Blackpool Grand until 4 January.