Theatre Royal Stratford East’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a roaring, gorgeous piece of work, balancing the gaudy license of traditional panto with some truly lovely music and singing. Unlike some edgier pantos which seem to be designed primarily with adults in mind, this panto is one for the whole family.
Fairy Stardust, a clockwork fairy, comes on stage and rouses the audience to a shouting match. Louder and louder, priming them (us?) for the: ‘Don’t do it!’, ‘Boos’ that are to come. The children (including my son) marvel that they don’t have to sit quietly (school has a lot to answer for) and are actually praised the louder they can shout. Queen Pearl (Shaun Prendergast) has the office of risqué joke taker, but thankfully, these innuendos go over the children’s heads. For first time panto goers, their wonder is fixed on, ‘Look Mummy, that man is wearing a dress!”
The director Matthew Xia, in his brochure note, says that ‘Sleeping Beauty is a rather complex story to tell in modern times: a baby girl, cursed with an unfortunate fate, falls asleep to be rescued by her Prince 100 years later – possibly making her the most inactive central character in the history of storytelling.’ This production addresses this by having one of the gifts the baby Scarlett is given be a skill at martial arts; another gift she receives is a bag of seeds that will infinitely grow.
The witch, Mauritius Le Vicious (Josephine Melville) – wondrous costumes and boots (Costume Maker: Carly Andrews and Headress Maker- Jane Smith), the fairy gone bad who wasn’t invited to Princess Scarlett’s naming ceremony and has therefore, cursed her with death by spinning wheel, has an assistant crow. In order to search for Scarlett, she turns crow into a young man, Forrest. The two begin to fall in love and then, as it must, the spinning wheel appears. There is a Romeo and Juliet moment but for reasons of suspense, I won’t say what it is. The fairies appear back on the scene with a Tardis like/ magician’s box time-travelling machine: the two lovers are sent to the future. When it is discovered that they forgot the remote, her parents follow in hot pursuit. In the future they now enter, Mauritius owns the world and people’s minds. It is a bit like Pottersville in ‘It’s a wonderful life’ and a bit like our present with not so oblique references to Donald Trump ( Mauritius Tower) and screeners (yes, yes, our phones are off but darn, it is hard). These references, and ones to Riki Pedia (Wikipedia), gender fluidity, calls to Alexa to play music are ones for the adults. The rest of the show pulls all the audience in. Water pistols and a flurry of lights that both shoot out to the audience, the slow motion fights, the songs we know and are singable, the ones which are new and we want to listen to and the dances we’re called on to join. The sets and lighting throughout are stunning (Designer: Lily Arnold and Lighting Designer: Ciaran Cunningham).
Scarlett (Ericka Posadas) looks like a Manga character come to life. Bow always ready, she is more boy than girl, until, of course, she falls in love. After all the furore that has recently torn this fairy story apart ( a boy kissing a sleeping girl- isn’t that perversion?), there is no kissing here, though there is a good deal of fine old fashioned romance. Posadas and Anthony Rickman (Forrest) do not just act their individual parts – given the public address nature of panto – this might have been the case; they also pull off their joint role as young lovers. And they sing beautifully, as does Alice Frankham as Mirror Antoinette.
Scarlett and Forrest’s mission is not only to find one another, destroy Mauritius but also, all that she stands for: the debilitating effects of the modern world.
This is very much an East London show, with references aplenty to Stratford, Epiing Forrest, Westfield. This gives it a very local home-grown feel.
The lovers are believable, the mother and father are camp, the evil witch is dark but not too dark, the music and songs (Robert Hyman: original Music and Lyrics) are (and I’m running out of adjectives here) – lovely. The mix of candyfloss and darkness is just right. What else can you want from a panto?
- Books and lyrics by Sarah A. Nixon and Mark Chatterton
- Directed by Matthew Xia
- Original book and lyrics by Robert Hyman
- Cast includes: Krystal Dockery, Joshua Elliott, Alice Frankham, Josephine Melville, Ericka Posadas, Shaun Prendergast, Anthony Rickman
- Theatre Royal Stratford East
- Until 12 January 2019