Wednesday, 8 December 2021

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

I’ve seen some great stars in panto at the Churchill over the years – Ronnie Corbett, Lionel Blair, Russ Abbot – but in more recent times such experienced performers have tended to be replaced by people who, in front of their name on the poster, have the words ‘CBBC’s…’ or ‘Emmerdale’s…’. To be fair some of them have been pretty good, but this year we’ve got a couple of proper names in the always good value, Bonnie Langford and Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be the best overall cast I can recall.

Claudillea Holloway looks so genuinely happy to be the princess, with a radiant smile. And her voice is quite beautiful. As her mum, Queen Voluptua, Joelle Moses exudes a regal authority and knocks out some terrific notes of her own. She’s been Motormouth Maybelle in a production of Hairspray and I’d have loved to see her in that part.

Lloyd Hollett as Muddles is our comic guide to proceedings and quickly built a ready rapport with the audience, slipping in a few jokes for the grown-ups along the way, although this is a very family-friendly show for even the youngest audience members. He also has a quite outstanding line in patter songs which are not only funny but amazing feats of memory and performance technique. In the first of these, he lists the names of all the comics who have inspired him, to the tune of the Can-Can. Almost everyone gets a mention, from Jo Brand to Tony Hancock. Just a shame he couldn’t find room to squeeze in a name check for Bromley’s own Tom Allen!

Lee Mead has the toughest job of the night – as do all romantic male leads in pantos. All that’s required of a panto prince is to be in love with the princess. It doesn’t leave room for much by way of comedy or drama. He does, though, manage to have fun with his history of playing Joseph and delivers some great song and dance numbers.

Myra Dubois is the baddie in this production, as Carabosse, the wicked fairy who causes the princess to fall into her deep sleep from which our prince must awaken her. All I can say is Dubios makes the best panto baddie I’ve seen, in a succession of frocks, gowns and put-downs. Just great.

As the good fairy, Lilac, Bonnie Langford goes well beyond the usual restrictions of the role (typically panto fairies come on in a flash and are off thirty seconds later having delivered a plot update). Bonnie is so twinkly and sparkly that I swear she would twinkle and sparkle just as much even if her costume wasn’t covered in spangles and sequins. She also gets to dance and sing – which is where she excels. When Bonnie is on the stage there’s no doubt she’s the star.

Thank goodness we also get a real live band in the pit. There’s just three of them but they fill the place with sound. In fact, my only real criticism is that, at least for my ears, the band was battling too hard to drown out the singers.

Thanks to Covid we have no children in the cast. Neither are any dragged up on stage from the audience in the final front-of-cloth scene. For me, these are plus points. It also means we get more stage time from the principals, which with this troupe is all to the good.

Review by John Charles 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls J12 | Price of ticket: £39.50
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