Saturday, December 09, 2017

Sleeping Beauty - confident, pacey and upbeat pantomime that did not disappoint (Waterfront Studio until 7 January)

Even before the curtain opened, the audience were screaming and booing as the evil Maleficent burst through to introduce himself. Then the curtains swished to the side, revealing the set and introduced the rest of the six-member cast of Sleeping Beauty. It’s a powerful – and probably text book – beginning to a very upbeat pantomime that went out of its way to keep the audience involved all the through the two hour show.

Baby Beauty is cursed by the dark and sinister Maleficent (played by Gary Crossan). Belfast drag queen Truly Scrumptious (Gordon Crawford) plays the dame, Nana Banana Magee, who along with two fairies, Muddles (Nuala Davies) and Stardust (Emer McDaid) whisked the infant off to grow up in a cottage in the magical fairy kingdom woods.

This cued up a great opportunity to work The Time Warp into a Christmas show as the characters jumped into the future and picked up on the story on the eve of Princess Beauty’s sixteenth birthday. Jolene O’Hara plays the Princess who inevitably fell for the long lustrous locks of Prince Harry Stiles ‘with all the styles’ (Gavin Peden). He delivered some of the cheesiest chatup lines in Belfast: my favourite was “Is your name ‘Wifi’? Because I’m feeling the connection!”

The curse was ‘activated’ (though maybe the youngest audience members would have preferred a less technical term?), the princess fell down to the floor, and a rousing song drove the performance into its long interval.

The second half briefly became a bit too frantic, losing a sense of where the plot was going with so much action, before recovering and guiding the show towards a bake-off, audience singing, Maleficent’s powerful rendition of Man! I Feel Like a Woman, and an all too short grand finale.

The colourful costumes worn by Nana Banana and the two ‘Little Magic Mix’ fairies matched the brash set. Leather cowboy chaps with bizarre codpieces were the uniform for Prince Stiles and Maleficent (who had a fine set of metallic robes to add to his horny helmet and bushy beard). While the ogre’s outfit and prodding fork didn’t quite fit the look of the rest of the show, the dummy ‘sleeping’ Princess Beauty was a comedy masterstroke.

The humour in Patrick J O’Reilly’s script was relentless, crammed full of jokes and puns and relatively little innuendo. There was a regular reprise for anyone in the audience who missed any important dialogue or lyrics. Crawford’s rich solo singing voice stood out while the ensemble harmonies were very effective.

Fighting and violence was very hands off and cartoonish, with great sound effects. Sarah Johnston’s fresh choreography gave the cast a move and a pose for nearly every line.

Together this created a very coherent and professional pantomime that director Lisa May kept going at a blistering speed and more than gives the old dame down on Great Victoria Street a run for its money despite the smaller set, smaller cast and smaller ticket price.

If you’re looking for a family friendly Christmas show with audience participation, pace, laughter and lots of pantomime charm, head down to the Waterfront Studio to see Sleeping Beauty. It was my first ever festive visit to the venue, but one that did not disappoint. GBL Production’s Sleeping Beauty continues until 7 January with up to 13 shows a week.

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