Sleeping Beauty

Dec 2 2021 | By More

★★★★☆  Comforting

King’s Theatre: Sat 27 Nov 2021 – Sun 16 Jan 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Familiar routines, eye-catching gimmicks and cheeky swagger are naturally present in Sleeping Beauty, this year’s pantomime at the King’s. And if something is unsurprisingly missing, it does pretty well in making up for it.

This is of course the first King’s panto in two years (with producers Qdos having been taken over by Crossroads Pantomimes in the interim) and while Allan Stewart and Grant Stott are very much back, the third member of the classic triumvirate of recent years is absent, following Andy Gray’s tragic death from Covid complications earlier this year.

Jordan Young as Muddles and Allan Stewart as Queen May Pic: Graham Clark

With a year having been missed, and this version being the last panto at the King’s for some time owing to the theatre’s much-needed revamp, it is hardly surprising that so many familiar routines are trotted out again. Communication through chocolate bar names, lip-sync battles, tongue-twisters, they are all here – together with some decidedly venerable jokes, almost-filthy remarks and the requisite number of deliberate mistakes.

All of this is carried off with considerable panache and copious brass neck. Stewart’s Queen May is that combination of sweetness and cynicism that he has made his own. He can even be forgiven for his first number being one written by his son, considering that in this case it is BTS’s Dynamite, possibly the most ubiquitous song worldwide in the last 12 months.

a beautifully judged moment

Stott’s wicked witch Carabosse, meanwhile, has a real presence and considerable bite. Jordan Young’s Muddles the Jester displays comic flair and genuine warmth.

The absence of Gray, however, does loom over proceedings in several ways. His death is addressed in a beautifully judged moment that provides real emotional impact that is rare in a pantomime, but the lack of his comic nous means that the humorous routines (whether Stewart is paired with Stott or with Young) often lack something.

Grant Stott as Carabosse. Pic: Graham Clark

The set pieces, meanwhile, are never integrated into a plot that is unwieldy. Adding another layer to the story (Stewart and Stott are identical twins, with daughters the same age, and so on) seems ill-advised when the usual process in the King’s panto is to dispense with the plot as soon as possible. That this extra material is conveyed in an awkward info-dump by Stott at the beginning makes it even stranger.

The more familiar elements of the tale are then skated over, with the thorny forest not even mentioned until Nicola Meehan’s strong-voiced Good Fairy declares it has been magicked away.

bravura plot recap

There is no handsome prince this time round, with Young doubling as love interest. This is a welcome development, but as so often happens, attempts to update pantomimes simply bring into relief what is still so old-fashioned. In this case, it means the almost total lack of agency of Sia Dauda’s Princess.

Dauda, like Meehan, proves herself as a vocalist, but has very little to do after her first number. This is acknowledged in Young’s bravura plot recap, but the production should really have addressed the problem rather than simply stating it.

Clare Gray as Narcissa Pic: Graham Clark

Clare Gray’s Narcissa is similarly underused. It is completely fitting that she should be in the production, but it would have been even better had she had more to do.

When she does join the central trio, it is for the If I Were Not in Pantoland number, that scores highly for old-fashioned slapstick, extreme pace and the fact that it has no pretensions whatsoever at fitting into Alan McHugh’s script.

There is huge drive (and volume) to the music under MD Andy Pickering, and plenty in the way of flashy visuals, including the expected flying sequence.

apt remarks

How much to address Covid must be a problem for many pantomimes this year. This production does fairly well in this regard, with a couple of apt remarks and a topical version of Wellerman that is pretty effective. Otherwise, there is a comparative shortage of topical material (the obligatory football references aside).

Audience participation is necessarily curtailed too, and it is to Stewart’s credit that he is still able to build up such a rapport. For (despite the obvious weaknesses in its construction) this is a production of huge heart that does exactly what its audience wants. Some tweaks will certainly be needed in the coming years, but that is for the future. If much of its appeal is built on nostalgia, that is not necessarily a bad thing right now.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Saturday 27 November 2021 – Sunday 16 January 2022
Tue – Sat: 2pm & 7.00 pm; Sun: 1pm & 5pm (with some exceptions – see website for details)
Information and tickets: Book here.

Nicola Meehan, Clare Gray, Grant Stott, Allan Stewart, Jordan Young and Sia Duada with the company. Pic: Graham Clark


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