Thursday, 2 January 2020

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

QDOS has built its reputation for Pantomimes with high production values and big budgets with all-star casts and large special FX but they also run several smaller regional venues and stage shows for them at Christmas. The Wyvern Swindon is such a venue with a capacity of 650 and this year they entrusted Chris Jarvis with writing, directing and leading the cast as Happy Harry in an enjoyable retelling of Sleeping Beauty. He keeps the other fairies bestowing their wishes on the baby Rose, seeks to entrap the Prince as the culprit of the fatal spinning wheel and neatly avoids the need to travel forward in time by offering 100 years sleep or kiss of a true love as alternatives, not sequential requirements. The result is a lively entertaining well-balanced show with a strong ensemble feel to the cast of 7 principals, 5 dancers and 3 juveniles with a good mix of comedy business and well-known musical numbers.

Ben Kennedy supervises and arranges the music and with choreographer Lucy Dungate includes well drilled versions of "Burn Baby Burn", "Time Warp", "Walking on Sunshine", "Higher Love", "Can't stop the beat", "Don't stop me now" and "World of your imagination" with a full sound from the band of three, although in some parts of the venue the sound mix muffled the vocals. They are all upbeat recognisable tunes and add to the party atmosphere. The 3 juvenile female dancers are perfectly integrated into the professional dance routines to make a team of eight in the big numbers.

Jarvis includes all the standard pantomime routines including the baking scene with self-raising flower, Mastermind with a couple of very adult risqué jokes, the traditional ghost bench scene with a fresh twist of being chased off through the auditorium and of course the inevitable 12 days of Christmas with five toilet rolls and a bra made for three. He is at the centre of them all and telegraphs each joke with his familiar grin and thumbs up. Some of the topical celebrity references seemed to go over the audiences’ head but the quick-fire delivery and likeable stage persona carries it off for kids and adults alike.

Opposite him is Michelle Collins as the evil Carabosse revelling in the character in a dodgy black wig and wobbly crown but she has a big stage presence and throws herself into the action with energy and awareness, sending herself up. In the end she is condemned to a fate worse than death, daytime soap opera! There is great support to from Matthew Rixon, looking ever more like his father Matthew Kelly as the Dame, Nurse Nutkins and towering above the other characters.

The Fairy, Julie Yammanee is excellent from her first entrance in a neat prologue scene and opening number through playing air guitar on her wand in "Don't stop me now" with the Prince (Julian Quijano). However, Erin Bell is rather underused as Rose not appearing until she is eighteen and then falling into a deep sleep soon after! 

There are some very good lighting effects especially with back lighting effectively introduced in several scenes by lowering an upstage bar into view to add some variety and interest. However, there was rather too much light on stage for the arrival of the Dragon which fully lit the four puppeteers rather unnecessarily dressed in black as they manoeuvred the quite detailed puppet downstage as it was defeated by Rose with a wooden pole! 

This is a very good value Pantomime with a lot packed into a two-hour show, a lively cast who look like they are enjoying the run and working together and certainly had audience on side throughout and if anything left them wanting more. It just shows what can be achieved on a tight budget with a little imagination and time spent developing the script.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row A | Price of Ticket: £25
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