These are curious times through which we’re living. The once dependable tent pegs around which we normally hang the year have been up-ended, or have disappeared altogether. None more so than the annual trip to our local theatre to enjoy the spectacle and family fun of the Christmas Panto.
With the on-off, stop-start of government policymaking it virtually impossible to make plans for leaving the relative comfort of the family living room, what could be better then, at this time of national disruption, than for the Christmas Panto to come to you?
Tea Break Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty is something of a triumph of real-time editing – it is performed live over Zoom from various locations which I take to be the actors’ own homes – and though it doesn’t have the wide sweep or stardust of an offering from The Palladium, its home-grown charm and earnestness to entertain won me over. I actually found myself increasingly enjoying it as it went on, largely on account of the warmth of the actors involved.
The story is, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, a version of Sleeping Beauty but whether through accident or intent plays as dark as a plot from Doctor Who (and as the writer has previously written for Dr Who Audio Adventures I suspect the latter may be the case).
It is, essentially, a quest that has fashioned. I have to admit that although I took copious notes, there were parts that completely baffled me. Perhaps they just went past so fast that I missed them, or perhaps that was the point. I’m not sure. Clearly, though, the target audience is the under five’s, so perhaps it doesn’t matter.
The show begins…as all good fairy tales do… ‘In a faraway time. And a faraway land. There was a castle whose towers reached up to the sky’ (you get the idea).
Prince (Chris Dobson) – that’s his name, not his title – decides that he’s going to go on a quest. There’s a sort of a portal which goes between worlds from the real world to the land of fairy tales, and poor Prince gets sucked into it through his PC, along with his faithful dog Puff.
In the castle is Princess Roz (Alicia McKenzie) who appears for some reason that I clearly missed, to be the only person who’s actually awake, in spite of being the titular character. She has a faithful cat, Alba.
Prince hacks his way through the thorns to save the princess, and in doing so acquires a mark on his hand (note to producers, use a darker colour, Gold doesn’t really show up). He enters the castle and as he goes from kitchen to ballroom, to dungeon, to courtyard, to the tallest tower where the princess is, acquires various objects from the people he meets who aren’t actually ‘real’ people, but the dream characters of the staff asleep in the castle.
When he finally finds the princess, they touch and everyone wakes up…
But it’s not quite as simple as that, because there’s an evil character called the Dreaver (Felicity Sparks, who also produces) who is devouring people’s dreams (I told you it was like Doctor Who) and…well, you’ll have to watch it to find out what happens.
Nice turns from Molly Small as the cook, and ‘Super Christmas’ with a predictably ear-wormery song (Argh!) though overall I think there’s space for at least one more song around the 15-20 minute mark to break up the first half-hour which is virtually all dialogue.
Look, I’m 52 and this was a show for four-year-olds, but I enjoyed it. What more is there to say?
- Book, Music, and Lyrics: Katharine Armitage
- Director: Katharine Armitage
- Starring: Felicity Sparks, Alicia McKenzie, Chris Dobson, Molly Small
- Until 30th December 2020
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