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Sleeping Beauty | Theatr Clwyd

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Theatr Clwyd are celebrating the festive season with their annual rock and roll pantomime Sleeping Beauty. Following on from the success of last year’s production of Robin Hood, this year’s pantomime takes place in the unique setting of a big top tent due to refurbishment work on their main theatre. 

Everyone knows the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty but perhaps not in this way with a Welsh twist. Princess Beauty is fiercely protected by the King of Mold at Clywd Castle in Moldhedge. The Evil Mordecai curses the princess with a spell that she will die when her finger is pricked. However, the good fairy Calon intervenes by softening the curse so that she will not die but sleep for a hundred years. 

Upon entering the big top circus, the scale of the production is the first thing that takes your breath away. The vast size of the stage almost makes you feel that you are at an arena show. and begs the question why this has not been done before. The space is expansive with even more seats than normal, meaning that everyone can enjoy the tradition of pantomime this Christmas. Set Designer Adrian Gee has done a marvellous job of translating the familiarly of set design from the usual stage space of their pantomimes to the expansive stage of the big top. Using a variety of levels definitely helps the production as seats surround three sides of the stage.

However, given the scale of the production, everything could have been so much bigger. During the ‘date scene’ between our panto dame and an unsuspecting audience member, popular films are used to tell the story. These were presented holding up placards no bigger than an A5 piece of paper. This could have been even more comical if people beyond the first few rows were able to see and the cards were much, much bigger.

The ten piece strong cast deserve so much credit for not only having a mammoth script to learn, choreography to master across the large space, songs to sing, but they all also play all the live music on stage. Choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster has utilised the space with the hard working cast covering so much space in their performance, but the stage design didn’t place them as prominent as they should have. This is the unique aspect of this pantomime and bar a few numbers where the actor-musicians took centre stage, they were almost hidden at the back with no lighting or focus on them. 

Back for his twentieth pantomime at Theatr Clwyd (oh no it isn’t, oh yes it really is!) Philip Harries plays Nurse Nellie of Pwllheli (this year). It’s not difficult to see why he is a main star of the success of the pantomimes at Theatr Clwyd, arriving on an elephant motorcycle squirting water at the audience alluding to the new 20mph speed limit in Wales. He has the audience constantly in states of laughter each time he is on stage especially during his interactions with the front row and during his number ‘Made You Look’ by Meghan Trainor. In a pantomime tradition, Nurse Nelly informed the audience at the opening of Act One that when she enters and calls ‘how am I looking’ we reply ‘looking lush love’ in typical Welsh style. It was therefore a wasted opportunity when the character renters the stage several times and doesn’t call for the response until the middle of act two.

Our three fairies Calon (Georgina White), Cariad (Ai Kumar) and Cwtch (Caitlin Lavagna) interact well with one another playing to all sides of the space. They truly come alive at the opening of act two performing ‘Bootylicious’ by Destiny’s Child declaring ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this fairy!’ Their harmonies in the accapella section were remarkable. Costumes (also by Adrian Gee) were fairytale like for the most part however had some conflicting aspects. Cariad and Calon were coherent in their red and green dresses, designed with leaves and colour coordinated with their shoes.  However Cwtch’s costume didn’t match her fairy counterparts and looked out of place. The costuming piece was distracting when performing together as a group and took audience members out of the illusion as Nike trainers were on display throughout. Special mention however goes to Caitlin Lavagna’s make up which was gorgeous almost depicting a snow queen. 

Winner of Pantomime Villian Of The Year 2023 Ben Locke was the stand out performer in the talented cast. His vocal range is quite astonishing from the aptly named ‘Babeauty’ (parody of Babushka by Kate Bush) using his stunning falsetto voice to the raspiness growl in his tone for ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks. The writing by Christian Patterson used Ben Locke to full affect with him leaving the stage for minimal time and also have him play Prince Charming (who only got a mention towards the end of the piece). The writing is very villian heavy as opposed to story telling and development of characters. Whilst pantomimes don’t necessarily need major character arcs or deep story progressions this seemed to be about getting as much out of their award winning cast member as possible. Who would blame them, it’s easy to see why he won the award playing Mordecai convincingly. 

The production uses an array of rock songs to tell the story however a lot of them feel they were misguided. Pantomime is meant to appeal to a broad spectrum of ages and it feels as if there is a distinct lack of familiarly for younger viewers. With songs such as Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush and Proud Mary by Tina Turner (which had no relevance to the story whatsoever) it feels almost as if they are venturing away from Pantomime into a concert production. 

Audience participation is a classic element of pantomime and the casts take on ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’ was a masterclass. Cast members invited enthusiastic and some reluctant audience members onto the stage to take part in the chaotic routine. It was lovely to see certain ‘items’ being handed out to all sides of the audience to get as many people as possible involved in the mayhem.

Pantomime is a British Institution and it’s difficult to keep them unique so the audience doesn’t tire of the same jokes each year. Theatr Clwyd pantos are always of a high calibre and this production sadly hasn’t lived up to their previous productions. There are lots of promising aspects to the show for future pantomimes, but sadly Sleeping Beauty isn’t fully out of her hibernation yet. 


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Andrew AB Photography


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