Tuesday, 22 December 2020

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Mayflower in Southampton

Michael Harrison and QDOS’s bold plan to stage 10 pantomimes in a Covid safe way around the country this Christmas largely underwritten by the National Lottery was thrown into despairing disarray by tier 3 announcements as they prepared to open. Three opened one of which was closed shortly afterwards so only Plymouth (see earlier review) and Sleeping Beauty at the Mayflower in Southampton will run their planned course. But if you live in a Tier 2 area along the south coast you should make every effort to get along to see Sleeping Beauty. It is a joyous timely reminder of the Christmas family festive outing that Pantomime provides, and, on the day, the South East went into Tier 4 lockdown provides as welcome glimmer of hope for 2021 that theatres can and will reopen.  

Sleeping Beauty is often one of the weaker titles in the Pantomime season, but this stripped-down 90-minute version devised by Harrison himself suits the format perfectly and provides a linking narrative to some brilliantly executed traditional pantomime routines full of silly, madcap entertainment that had the socially distanced audience giggling away almost constantly. It helps that its stars have strong cabaret routines that they effortlessly fitted into the story as well as a lot of pantomime experience between them and are supported by a hard-working strong ensemble cast.

It is Joe Pasquale’s show and although I had seen many of the routines before, his inimitable physical presence, distinctive high-pitched voice and experience as a stage performer means he keeps it feeling fresh and lively. Some of it defies explanation but like so many great comics we love them because of the familiarity and the way their personality spills out into the audience and engages young and old together. There are nods to 2020 when he is fired as the Court Jester and responds “what, not even furloughed”. His best gag is a delightfully naughty gift to the Princess of a rainbow from a box 

He is well-matched with another top Cabaret and Pantomime star Ceri Dupree as Queen Passionella, the Dame. In a wonderful array of different costumes, fully embracing the tradition that a Dame wears something different each entrance, Dupree engages well with the cast and audience. The welcome “call out” is a clever Covid friendly twist that brings the audience into the show. The Lady Gaga song, Poker Face in impossibly high heels is brilliant. She too makes a 2020 reference that she has been “socially distancing from the King for years!”

Lesley Joseph is in her element as Carabosse, a diminutive powerhouse combining the evil cougar character with her natural comic actress abilities. The classic Mr Who, Mr What and Mr IDontKnow sketch with Pasqaule is always a joy to watch whether the mistakes are rehearsed or not! It is also good to see the budget extended to plenty of Pyro’s to accompany her performance!

They are supported by Georgia Carr and Jordan Shaw as Princess Beauty and Prince Daniel, James Paterson as King Clarence, and Neal Wright as a very creepy Slimeball. The show opens with a lovely song from the Enchantress, Sarah Earnshaw backed by a very busy and well-used chorus of Fairies (Ashleigh Graham, Aoife Kenny and Micha Richardson) and she leads the singing at the end in the specially written Pantoland song which I suspect was due to close all 10 of the QDOS shows. Variety is added in the Birthday scene by the royal skaters Armando and Jane Ferrandino in the usual spinning daredevil roller-skate routine and then slightly oddly after the final curtain with an equally dangerous-looking silks routine!

Director and Choreographer Andrew Wright does an excellent job knitting this all together into a seamless fast-paced entertaining show and I particularly liked the nice touch of the three fairies repeatedly using three strands of white material in their routines so effectively. They add plenty of local references to appeal to the Southampton audience. QDOS also dug out plenty of scenery pieces like a spaceship and the children’s cots as well as a wide range of the scenic cloths to give the show a more impressive feel. Edward Court led the 4-piece band.

This was a perfect show for the time. Well judged in its mix of content, brilliantly executed by the talented cast, and safely managed by the super front of house staff. It offers a hopeful glimmer that life in the theatres for cast, crew and audiences can return to normal and that Michael Ockwell’s fine venue will soon see 2000 plus in the house again. My only regret is that it has not been captured to stream to all those around the country who had or would have booked to see a Pantomime this year who would have enjoyed this show. Is it too late or will they have to wait until next year?

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row S | Price of ticket: £34

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