"A visual spectacle"
Theatr Clwyd is well known for the high standard pantomime that they produce year upon year and is a staple in the Christmas festivities of many Moldy Mingers (as our panto villain likes to call us, every year). This year’s production of Sleeping Beauty, written by Christian Patterson and directed by Francesca Goodridge and Daniel Lloyd, takes place in a purpose-built circus big top tent whilst renovations on the theatre continue to take place. As a regular attendee of Theatr Clwyd’s annual pantomime, I was super intrigued to see how this production would translate onto a bigger stage in a circus big top tent.
This production follows closely to the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty – a curse is placed upon Beauty, putting her into a deep sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. However, there is a slight twist, and it appears that true love can appear in more than one form. With a trio of delightful fairies protecting Beauty, alongside trustworthy friend Muddles, Nurse Nellie, and King Dom, can the evil Mordecai be prevented from giving Beauty the kiss of death and sending the Beauty into an eternal slumber?
It's pretty common knowledge that you do not go to a pantomime in the hope of a deep and thought-provoking storyline. However, in this production, the entire first act relies too heavily on the standard slapstick comedy and audience participation that you would expect from a pantomime. Whilst it proved to be entertaining for a short while, it quickly became tiresome and left me longing for a little purpose in the storyline. Act two is much stronger and more engaging, as we are given opportunities for the cast to demonstrate their abilities and talents, whilst still intertwining the fun elements of panto.
One of the best things about Theatr Clwyd panto is the returning faces that we see year upon year. Our favourite panto dame Phillip Harries returns for his twentieth pantomime at Theatr Clwyd, and whilst his first entrance as Nurse Nellie packs a punch with a performance of ‘Made You Look’ by Megan Trainor, it slightly feels like Nurse Nellie’s character is underused. Harries is notorious for stealing every scene that he appears in, and whilst he does a fantastic job of working with the material he has been given, there is a lack of ad-lib during his interactions with the cast and it is sorely missed. There is an array of recycled panto jokes that miss their mark, sometimes with scattered laughs amongst the audiences. Harries, however, provides a masterclass of interacting with the audience and has us in the palms of his hand from the offset.
Another returning favourite comes in the form of the incredibly talented, Ben Locke, who returns as our panto baddie with a twist. Whilst Locke is effective in making the crowds jeer for him, he laces his character with a camp and over the top tone, that it’s impossible to not see the charismatic side of his character. It is evident why Locke is deserving of his recent award of ‘Best Villain’ at the Pantomime Awards 2023, and it is such a shame that he is underused in the first act as his performance is so engaging. Locke’s musical talent shines throughout, demonstrating an incredible range in his vocal range and guitar playing abilities.
Our delightful fairies Calon (Georgina White), Cwtch (Caitlin Lavagna) and Cariad (Ai Kumar) are a gorgeous addition to this production, providing some lovely harmonies during their vocal performances. The whole cast completed by Dan Bottomley, Celia Cruwys-Finnigan, Theo Diedrick, Emma Kinney and Alice McKenna gave a valiant and enjoyable performance, and it was clear throughout how much passion and commitment that they have.
As previously mentioned, this year’s panto takes place in a big top tent, with a large thrust stage in the centre and the audience sat on three sides of the stage. Whilst initially the stage appears to be rather vast, the cast do an incredible job of filling the stage, constantly moving around whilst playing their instruments and interacting with the audience, which was really impressive to observe. Set designer, Adrian Gee, has transformed the large stage into a visual spectacle, with light up spider-webs dangling down around the thrust stage, different layers to the staging for the actors to perform, and some lovely bits of set which are transported onto the stage on automation. Lighting design from Johanna Town contributed to the spectacle, with projections illuminating the stage floor, and spots of light to match the musical elements, it truly was a feast for the eyes.
Theatr Clwyd is the epitome of community, and it is completely transmitted into their annual pantomimes. Directors, Goodridge and Lloyd, have included lots of lovely fan favourite moments into their pantomime, however, it sometimes feels a little lost in translation. Regardless, Theatr Clwyd have created an exciting, joyous, and heart-warming pantomime that will delight audiences throughout the festive period.
This show was reviewed on the 5th December 2023. Sleeping Beauty runs at Theatr Clwyd until the 6th January 2024. Tickets available here; Sleeping Beauty | Theatr Clwyd
Review written by Vicky Humphreys
Photo credit: Andrew AB Photography