Sleeping Beauty @ The Spring, Havant
It’s panto season once again, normally a quiet time for us as we tend to avoid the incredibly samey big-budget productions put on by the major local theatres. But when Bench Theatre invited us to check out their take on Sleeping Beauty we thought why not, eh? This lot are well known for pushing boundaries and trying to step away from the usual rotation of comfortable classics, so we should expect something a little different from their Christmas offering too…
We’ve got a bit of a checklist for what makes a good panto, the ingredients to guarantee laughs. The script needs to appeal to kids, but also have jokes for the adults (check), the cast needs to include at least one or two comfortable improvisers to deal with audience heckling (check) and you need a really good villain (check). The only thing missing is a top notch Dame as Bench have eschewed this idea entirely (probably best as it would have to be shoe-horned into this story anyway).
We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, but to ensure we’re following things here we’re guided by two narrators; Billio and Blunt, the Brothers Grimmer. Mark Wakeman (who also wrote the script) and Dan Finch make for an engaging duo, playing the fool and sending up the action before them.
Most of the rest of the cast assume multiple roles over the course of the action, from curious villagers, to garden gnomes with a penchant for evil and at one point even a giant squid. It’s clear that they’re all loving every minute, as are the kids in the audience who eagerly join in with every “he’s behind you” and “oh know you didn’t”!
Sarah Parnell excels as the villainous Magnifica and (as the baddie in a panto always should) pretty much steals the show, but that’s not to say other performances aren’t up to scratch. Jessi Wilson makes a sweet Princess Aurora and Beth Evans as Dennis revels in the audience participation moments. Sophie Hoolihan’s thigh slapping prince and Tasmin Halford’s less eager squire work very well together and the three fairies (Robin Hall, Jo Langfield and Claire Lyne), each more rubbish than the last, provide plenty of chuckles. A shoutout to Paul Millington as well for playing anal-retentive Fair King Malcolm at just the right level of boring!
Elsewhere there are numerous brilliant cameos, of which Pete Woodward’s RSC veteran horse is a particular highlight for this self-confessed Shakespeare junkie.
In short, this is panto done right, with all the traditions kept (albeit in Bench’s own in imitable style). It whips along at a fair old pace and due to the acoustics in The Spring a couple of lines were lost but if you have kids (or even if, like me, you don’t) you should head along to this as you’ll love it!