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Sleeping Beauty

★★★★★

Greenwich Theatre

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Greenwich Theatre

Reviewed – 11th December 2019

★★★★★

 

“an incredibly rich and vibrant affair that will fill you with a sense of well-being while making you laugh again and again”

 

Every year Andrew Pollard brings his remarkable pantomime to Greenwich Theatre, and every year it surprises and delights. The stories may change, but the essence remains the same – a hilarious and audacious roller-coaster of a show. Sleeping Beauty is another great victory for this supremely talented writer, actor and director.

Forget the usual panto formula. While Pollard clearly loves the genre and pays homage to its key elements – not least, by embodying the archetypal Dame – his take on the form is refreshingly different and he makes Sleeping Beauty work on multiple levels. For children, it’s excitingly full of colour, adventure and impressive pyrotechnic effects, with appealing interactive moments – such as being handed magic moon rocks and urged to throw them at the stage. For adults, it’s a feast of cheeky wit with a very funny script that weaves in local and topical references (Plumstead, Blackheath, Nigel Farage, Prince Andrew) alongside plenty of daft innuendo. It’s a treat to watch the actors trying to make each other laugh, going off-piste and breaking the fourth wall.

The scenes are interspersed with – and often built around – wonderful pop music. There are adaptations of songs by The Beatles, Chic, Boney M and The Proclaimers, among others, played live and loud by the small in-house band led by Musical Director ‘Uncle’ Steve Markwick.

The story veers wildly away from the classic fairytale, but just about retains enough of the key elements to justify the title. Ewan and Anastasia, the young couple at the centre of the plot, are confidently played by Regan Burke and Esme Bacalla-Hayes. Theirs is not a typical boy-meets-girl situation. With the help of a kindly fairy, Ewan finds himself transported from the London of 1969 to the Russia of 1869. Masquerading as ‘Major Thomas’ – you can see the David Bowie connection a mile off, and sure enough they include ‘Space Oddity’ as one of the songs – he falls in love with the daughter of Tsar Ivan the Slightly Irritable. But Anastasia is bewitched and left to sleep for 100 years by the evil villain Rasputin. The ‘mad monk’ is wonderfully brought to life by the ultra-charismatic Anthony Spargo, who knows exactly how to get the audience hissing at him and his dastardly plans.

Quickly dispensing with familiar Sleeping Beauty motifs, the narrative races off into a gloriously ridiculous saga about travelling through time and space, plus a thread about Greenwich Theatre itself as way of celebrating its 50th anniversary. Indeed, Ewan is based on Ewan Hooper, a real-life local actor who saved the theatre from demolition in the 1960s.

One of the highlights of each annual pantomime is the spectacle of Andrew Pollard’s outlandish costumes, which defy gravity and belief, so special credit must go to the team of wardrobe designers. Utterly inspired visuals in which adults are turned into babies also support several moments of comedy that go beyond merely funny or clever to approach a sort of surreal high art.

Only one criticism: at times the music is too loud and drowns out the dialogue. It’s not the sort of show in which you need to hear every word, but it is a shame that a few of the jokes are lost for this reason.

That point aside, this is an incredibly rich and vibrant affair that will fill you with a sense of well-being while making you laugh again and again.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Robert Day

 


Sleeping Beauty

Greenwich Theatre until 12 January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
One Last Waltz | ★★★ | March 2018
Eigengrau | | August 2018
Outrageous Fortune | ★★★ | May 2019
Skin in the Game | ★★★★ | July 2019

 

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I Do! I Do!

★★★½

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

I do I do

I Do! I Do!

Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Reviewed – 30th October 2019

★★★½

 

“consistently entertaining and extremely well delivered: a successful fusion of music and narrative that makes for a compassionate study of the miracle of love”

 

Spanning half a century and featuring just two actors, this is a charming adaptation of a 1966 Broadway musical that was based on Jan de Hartog’s 1951 play, The Fourposter. Directed and produced by Joseph Hodges, this new version revives the timeless tale of a marriage in all its stages.

We join Michael and Agnes in their bedroom on their wedding night, young and very much in love but also inexperienced and nervous at the prospect of spending their lives together. Fast-forwarding through the years to reveal the progression of their relationship, the show alternates between dramatic vignettes and vibrant, clever songs.

Gemma Maclean and Ben Morris carry the entire performance, animated and energetic enough to fill the stage by themselves. They are accompanied only by musical director Henry Brennan, who offers dextrous live keyboard interpretations of the songs by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones.

The unfussy-but-detailed set design by Emily Bestow wisely puts the bed at its centre, flanked by a dressing table on the left and a writing desk (Michael is a novelist) and chaise longue on the right.

There’s subtle humour and plenty of warmth, but – keeping sentimentality at bay – there are also barbed observations and arguments. One of the funniest moments, built around the song ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, shows the bickering couple reading from pre-prepared lists of each other’s faults. We learn that she wears cold cream in bed, while he makes a strange sucking noise in his sleep. There’s also an amusing running joke about a ‘God is love’ pillow that Agnes is fond of and which Michael cannot stand…

The scenes flow sequentially but the plot strands aren’t always resolved. Instead, each scene presents a new snapshot of their lives. This was a little frustrating in the case of the bombshell that ends the first half. You really want to find out how they respond to this crisis, and then… time marches on and it’s as if that scene never happened. Yet despite this slightly disjointed aspect, the narrative gives Michael and Agnes surprising emotional depth. Indeed, the ups and downs of their journey through marriage are frequently poignant and touching. We join them as they encounter the joys and fears of parenthood. We witness the rise of Michael’s writing career and see how his success affects them both differently. And we observe their mixed feelings at their daughter’s wedding as the whole cycle begins again.

If there’s a flaw it’s that the show supposedly spans the 50 years from 1890 to 1940 – a period encompassing World War I and the start of World War II – but you get little or no sense of wider events unfolding beyond the walls of their bedroom. Instead, the focus is on how time passes for the couple, which makes perfect sense given the theme, but it does seem like a missed opportunity to infuse their situation with additional gravity.

That minor point aside, it’s consistently entertaining and extremely well delivered: a successful fusion of music and narrative that makes for a compassionate study of the miracle of love.

 

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

Photography by Kevin Ralph

 


I Do! I Do!

Upstairs at The Gatehouse until 16th November

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nice Work if You Can Get It | ★★★★ | December 2018
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019
A Modest Little Man | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

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