Saturday 30th November 2019 at Nottingham Playhouse.
‘Ey up me ducks!’ Panto fever has landed in Nottingham and this year, Nottingham Playhouse have a real treat in store with this production of Kenneth Alan Taylor’s Sleeping Beauty.
This is a Nottingham Playhouse family affair, with regular panto favourites returning to appreciative cheers from regulars. Darren Southworth pops up this time as King Hubert – a hen-pecked husband with a tendency to be overtaken with the giggles. Tim Frater has put away his Robin Hood bow and arrow from last year to take up the role of Jerry the Jester – packing more energy into each of his musical numbers than we mere civilians will display in a week.
Rebecca Little brings her infectious laugh and general charm to the role of Queen Gertrude, the aforementioned hen-pecking wife…with a good sense of humour, naturally and the fantastic John Elkington takes up Nurse Tilly Trott’s girdle and garb for the 20th time this year, bringing his distinctive brand of warm wit and great sense of fun along with him.
Central roles go to those new to the Nottingham Playhouse panto family portrait. Princess Rosalind goes to Maddie Harper, whose innocent-maiden-in-peril performance hits all the right notes. Speaking of notes, Louise Dalton’s Prince Alexander sports the very best pipes to be found in this production, offering some fantastic takes on ‘songs sung proper like’ as opposed to the comedy numbers where laughs naturally take the lead.
Lisa Ambalavanar makes her professional stage debut as Fairy Wisheart, and it’s another fabulous performance featuring some beautiful vocals. The You are Not Alone duet between Dalton and Ambalavar is by far the sincere musical highlight here, overtaken only by the fun-filled ensemble numbers which make the second act the life of the party.
Toyin Ayedun-Alase is a standout as the thoroughly villainous Maleficent. There’s no clumsy tripping over skirts or muddles here – this is a panto baddie without a funny bone in sight and it’s a performance harking back to a slightly more grown up style of panto where the villain doesn’t entertain the odd pratfall or have a little upbeat ditty to undo some of their meaner moments. This is a mean mean villain (though not scary for the wee kiddies I should add) and she is brilliant!
In taking this road less travelled by modern panto productions, this show feels more grown-up and purposeful than others. It tells a story with substance and in doing so, there are slightly fewer giggles to be had purely because ad-libs and tangents are minimal. What we get instead is the far rarer traditional direction which brings its own sparkle and strengths in the way of a solid story told well – it’s more fairytale than farce and it’s brilliantly done.
Tim Meacock’s designs conjure a fairytale land to a ‘t’, giving buoyancy to 2D backdrops in that special way designers can while sparing no sparkle when it comes to embellishments. The dame costumes range from the gleefully garish to slightly neater, classier ensembles which seem entirely fitting considering Nurse Nelly’s elevated position in the royal household! Maleficent and the King and Queen are also particularly striking in their distinctly fairytale land ensembles.
Musical director John Morton (affectionately termed ‘uncle Johnny’ of course) leads our band of merry actors in plenty of ditties, many of which are from the hits of 2019 catalogue. Then there’s the classic sing-along which brings Elkington centre stage where he belongs. Choreographer and Assistant Director Adele Parry brings some great toe tapping spectacles to the table, danced by a chorus of twinkling youngsters alongside the principal cast. Lighting designer Jason Taylor brings out the best in all we see and writer and Director Kenneth Alan Taylor keeps things skipping along with panto aplomb.
This is another big winner for Nottingham Playhouse. It’s a lovingly traditional panto which faithfully keeps the central story front and centre, delivering the fairytale in full fleshed out style and with plenty of flair. While it does mean that embellishments in the name of gags and ad-libs are fewer than they might otherwise be, the lovable silliness still shows its beaming face and all the traditions of birthdays and kiddie interviews remain intact. It’s the cast who really sell this show though – they are a merry bunch who make the whole thing look like one big party. They’re on a mission to entertain and entertain they do. Oh yes they do!
Sleeping Beauty is a Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company production. It plays Nottingham Playhouse until January 11th 2020 and you can find tickets here.
Images: Pamela Raith Photography