Sunday, 15 December 2019

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Watford Palace


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 Watford the saviour is Fairy Fender, a lively personable performance from Thomas Fabian Parrish in a seventies wig and jump suit who happens to arrange time travel. We are first taken to 1957 to meet Vince Prince, an excuse for some Elvis Presley songs and impressions before going further back in time to 1539 and Aurora’s birth. By the time her eighteenth birthday arrives in 1557 the Princess, charmingly played by Nikita Johal has met both Prince (assuming he is an actual Prince) and Fender but Pestilentia Blight (as Caraboose is called) played by Arabella Rodrigo still delivers the fatal prick from within a giant 18th Birthday cake. Fender then mistakenly sends her forward 400 years with her father (Lenny VIII played by John Macneill) and her nanny (Fanny played by Richard Emerson) so the Prince can awaken her! The comedy is mainly delivered by Fanny (the Dame) and Leonie Spilsbury as Sowesta, a talking pig.

As in recent years, the Watford pantomime has no ensemble or kids chorus and Fender doubles up in the Band with keys played by Mark Warman and drums by Sam Luker so the focus is entirely on the music and the seven cast member who have to work very hard to create each scene. The time travel means we get a mix of music including “Don’t stop me now”, “I’m all shock up”, “I’m a believer”, “Rock around the clock” and “I’m still standing” with straightforward chorography for the cast.

As always, the set design by Cleo Pettitt is bright colourful with some delightful touches like the 18th birthday Balloons, wilting flowers and a good gag for the arrival of the Nannie by Nanazon flying across the up stage. The comedy is gentle and uncomplicated as in the traditional classroom scene and a simple but effective Ultraviolet scene with Emoji’s to battle. They cleverly incorporate adverts for two sponsors into the narrative although I am not sure the school children watching had any idea what was going on!

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: £19
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