Nothing captures the real heart of British audiences quite like a pantomime dame not turning around quick enough to see that the monster is behind them, whilst they sit on a log to take a quick rest from protecting the princess. Now let me tell you, the Nottingham Playhouse has heart and energy in abundance in their annual panto, Sleeping Beauty.
Starring the Midland's sweetheart, John Elkington reprising his annual dame for his twentieth year in the form of the loveable Nurse Tilly, the joyous Tim Frater as loyal sidekick, Jerry the Jester and unstoppable duo Darren Southworth and Rebecca Little as our King and Queen; it really is a glitzy, glamorous affair. This production is delightfully filled to the brim with traditional conventions guaranteed to paint a smile on audience faces, whatever their age.
Written and directed by Kenneth Alan Taylor, the familiar story comes to life with lavishly detailed design from Tim Meacock and enjoyable choreography by Adele Parry from an energetic and sweet chorus. Nurse Tilly’s magnificent gowns really popped on stage, and the wedding finale scene featured floral themed frocks of epic proportion rousing giggles across the theatre. In particular, it is the good Fairy Wisheart who captures the hearts of the audience. Portrayed by Lisa Ambalavanar, Fairy Wisheart is graceful and delicate. Her wings glistened as they moved and her dress shimmered under the bright lights. In contrast, Toyin Ayedun-Alase’s Maleficent was deliciously bad, stirring boos from all corners of the room. Captivating the audience with her devilish schemes to destroy the kingdom and Princess Rosalind, Maleficent’s presence was dark and bewitching. Sleeping Beauty is a real fantastical treat for the eyes. If there is ever a glitter shortage in the UK, look to the Playhouse for they’ve got it by the bucket-load.
With musical direction from John Morton, he and his delightful band; Ian Maclean, John Porter and John Watterson, offered up a dynamic mix of party classics from Queen to Grease, and current pop hits including an impressive rap verse from His Majesty. The cast sang ‘Burn Baby Burn’ as spinning wheels went up in flames, and George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’ as our heroes journeyed with baby Princess Rosalind in arms. As our Prince and Princess, played respectively by the elegant Maddie Harper and charismatic Louise Dalton fall in love, they duet to the Jonas Brothers’ ‘Sucker’.
For opening night, the Nottingham audience was particularly giddy from the Playhouse’s lavish transformation for the Christmas period. It appears that with a guest appearance from Santa Claus himself mixed with the contagious energy of this feel good pantomime, had everybody raring for some fun. As the dynamic trio of King Hubert, Nurse Tilly and Jerry the Jester took to the stage to sing ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’, the crowd demanded more. Then more. Then some more. It was during its fourth rendition that we were forced to work for it, leading to an impromptu dance break.
It is a credit to both the writers and the performers for the genuine comedic value of Sleeping Beauty. Playing with the must-have conventions of a good old British panto, we of course had the monster in the forest, the"it’s behind you” (albeit predicted and eagerly shouted out roughly 30 seconds too early), and the singalong tongue-twister to close the show. Joined by four dancing bunny rabbits and razor sharp adult humour cutting through the Nottingham idiolect, the fun level is off the chart. The usually messy “Kitchen” scene completely stole the second half, where the story predictably starts to run thin. Brought to the modern day with the use of the Amazon Alexa, Nurse Tilly humorously tries to make a rabbit pie, but our cute little hand puppet is having absolutely none of it and seeks revenge some chocolate covered raisins. Other highlights include; Queen Gertrude’s short woman complex providing comic relief with her husband, King Hubert’s bumbling ways and the Playhouse panto's obvious sponsorship by Nottingham City Transport.
With a slap of the thigh by Prince Alexander, the Nottingham Playhouse panto is a dazzling Christmas celebration. It’ll make you whoop with laughter from start to finish.