Sunday, 15 December 2019

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Alban Arena

Sleeping Beauty is an established pantomime title with a strong appeal to a young audience but each writer adopts a different approach to the one hundred year time travel that is central to the story so it was very interesting to see two of this year’s productions on the same day. The Watford Palace version was written by the brilliantly creative Andrew Pollard and the Alban Arena version, just 10 miles up the road by the equally reliable Paul Hendy. There could not be a more contrasting approach to the same story with Princess Aurora falling for a Prince before the evil fairy’s spell sends her into a deep sleep despite her nannie and father’s best efforts to prevent it. But there the similarities end!

At the Alban Arena just up the road from the Watford palace it is completely different approach with the cast of 7 including three comics, six ensemble dancers, three kids’ teams and four musicians and they pack a great deal of business into the two- and half-hour show. Directed by the St Albans regular and favourite Bob Golding in his ninth year and back on stage again as the dame, Nurse Nellie it is very much his show. He knows what works with the audience and what is expected of an Alban Arena pantomime: lots of spurious comedy routines all set in the appropriately named Hamalot.

He and his side kicks, the very tolerant Ian Kirby (the King, this year) and the gangly presenter Andy Day as Jangles deliver an endless string of silly and outrageously complicated puns, but they know how to telegraph the gags and land the punchlines. There is a newish Vegetable barrow routine of puns which has the audience groaning at each gag and a wonderfully wet large-scale bathroom scene which must be exhausting to execute but makes other slosh scenes look tame! The school room scene is a little weak relying to much on the tipping bench but does include a lively and fun “Baggy Trousers” song. And of course, no Alban Arena pantomime would be complete without the traditional ghost and ghoulies bench routine. Golding and Kirby and the modern-day masters of this old routine.

But the female characters hold their own amongst the chaos with Rita Simons returning to strut her evil stiff as Carabosse (including opening Act 2 with “Pinball Wizard”), Lisa Davina Phillips as an excellent Jamaican Fairy Moonbeam and Jemma Carlisle as a feisty modern Princess. Philip Ryan plays her love interest, Charming.

Disappointing the show has a weak Songsheet dispensing with the usual children on stage. However, they do include a lot of audience interaction in the rest of the show with a man picked on throughout by the Dame, multiple cast members using water pistols on the audience, frequent repetitive shout outs and several appearances from Caraboose in the audience. It is probably the most interactive pantomime of the season and that is what the Alban arena audience wants and expects.

If you can’t see both take under 10’s to Watford and truculent teenagers to St Albans!

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row J | Price of Ticket: £21
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