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Theatre Review: Sleeping Beauty at Nottingham Playhouse

25 November 19 words: Rebecca Buck
photos: Pamela Raith Photography

Kenneth Alan-Taylor’s 37th Pantomime at Nottingham Playhouse is a glitter-filled, magical celebration of the traditions of panto that will delight audiences of all ages.

That Nottingham can sustain two top-level pantomimes, year in year out, is testament – in part – to the fact that Kenneth Alan-Taylor’s Playhouse pantomime offers something a little bit different to the star-studded set-piece at the Royal Centre. The Playhouse panto avoids celebrity, risqué innuendo, and the lure of 3D or animatronic technology and instead is, unfailingly, a celebration of the traditions of its genre.

This year’s panto, Sleeping Beauty, is no different – and even brings back the ‘Principal Boy’ character, missing from recent years, with dashing Prince Alexander played by Louise Dalton, complete with much thigh-slapping. The performance has everything you’d expect from a Playhouse panto and the considerable number of audience goers who have been faithful to Alan-Taylor’s offerings over the years will be both tickled and relieved to hear their old favourites – it’s not the Playhouse panto if someone doesn’t say ‘Nighty Nighty, Pyjama Pyjama’ and there’s not a withering reference to Beeston. In a topsy-turvy world, there is something very reassuring about the Playhouse panto; it’s a couple of hours of magical, fairy-tale escapism. And adults love it just as much as children.

There are quite a few new cast members this year, as well as old favourites. All are excellent and have stand out moments, but some shine in particular: John Elkington, as Nurse Tilly, is a brilliant, mostly gentle, dame and the star of every scene he is in. Tim Frater, as Jerry the Jester, is full of energy and will be especially loved by the children in the audience. It does seem a shame that Louise Dalton’s Prince doesn’t have more to do, as her performance is one of the most complete and charismatic. Toyin Ayedun-Alasi’s villain, Maleficent, made us all forget the Disney and Angelina versions, and was so good that the cheers outdid the traditional boos when she took her bow at the end.

It was the first night and there was, perhaps, a sense that some jokes hadn’t quite settled yet, and the opportunities for adlibs were not fully established or exploited. Some expected laughs didn’t quite arrive, some timing was not quite perfect. The double act of the King and Queen, particularly, seemed like it needs a few more performances to find its place in the show and to be funny, not just silly. No two panto performances are ever the same, and this one will mature through its long run and any wrinkles will undoubtedly be removed. Even if they’re not, it’s still a massive audience pleaser.

The success of the Playhouse panto is also down to amazing production values. The sets are remarkable works of art, not only conjuring convincing palaces and woodland scenes, but also contributing to the fairy tale magic, with optical illusion and glitter aplenty, cleverly brought to life by the lighting design. The costumes – particularly Nurse Tilly’s – are brilliant and create a beautiful picture on stage. And the music – directed again by the evergreen John ‘Uncle Johnny’ Morton – pulls the whole thing together.

The music, in fact, deserves separate praise, delivering everything from classical strains via nostalgic pop and rock, to recent chart hits. Played outstandingly and performed at times perfectly, and at other times valiantly, by the cast, all the musical numbers – and the second Act is particularly heavy with them – are engaging and fun, helping to draw the audience into the show.

The children in the audience were delighted throughout, and the adults were all grinning as they left too. The Playhouse panto, as ever, delivered on something that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. It was an evening to forget your troubles, the troubles of the world, believe in magic, true love, and happy ever afters.

Sleeping Beauty is at Nottingham Playhouse until 11 January 2020

Nottingham Playhouse website