Despite the time of year, I was eager to see how the Pantomime Society would stage this classic fairy tale. Beforehand, I read that it had been given several twists by writers Harriet Waller and Rhian Maria Paolella (also director). You could not miss members of the cast in their glimmering costumes, wandering around the Guild vicinity in the days leading up to the start of the show run. What I saw on the second night was a story that had been reinvigorated by the characters and a unique musical composition.
The Underground, like virtually all rooms in the Guild, is a multi-functional venue. After being kindly shown to my seat by the director, I observed the orchestra, positioned in front of the stage on the right hand side. Opposite me, a piece of steel deck lay a few metres away to leave room for a crowd of princesses to gracefully enter with flower bouquets and confetti. A rainbow, made from cardboard but nonetheless brightly painted, stood centre stage and was adorned with the titles of many a well-known fairy tale: Tangled, Brave and of course, Sleeping Beauty.
We were eased into the story by three fairies, each showing a welcoming and friendly demeanour towards us but a little hostile towards one another. These three characters brought different qualities to bear. Fairy Dawn (Lucy Clark) seemed to parody the common tropes of pantomime whilst Fairy Merryweather (Gaby Horwood) needed the audience’s help when preparing Aurora’s birthday cake. Fairy Flow (Poppy Cook) reminded us to cheer when seeing a hero and ‘boo’ loudly in the presence of a villain; indeed, the actors took their opportunities to engage with individuals in the audience. Prince Philip (Matt Richards) strode on, composed yet arrogant, and kissed the hands of two people in the front rows. Staying true to the pantomime style, the characters recognised that they were part of a story set in a make-believe world that the audience could still participate in.
An impressive part of this show was the fact that, because Aurora (Bethan Macfarlane) is known to say little, the writers really had to work to provide new material, especially in the form of other Disney princesses. A memorable scene featured the likes of Snow White (George Bandy) and Rapunzel (Amber Gollay), among several others. Each of them exposed their admirable qualities as well as pet hates: Belle’s (Katie Townsend) being a fear of mice, after Rapunzel spat out a fur ball that Zora (Blanche Brown) mistook to be a mouse. Every pantomime needs a strong sense of community among the characters and it was certainly the case here, even if these other princesses sneered at Aurora, who was younger than them and unaware of what had been prophesied at her birth.
The music complemented the atmosphere of each scene, particularly those set in the castle of Maleficent (Patrick Hannawin), accompanied by her Henchman (Rae Doyle) and minions. Synthesiser, played on a keyboard, preceded almost every entrance these characters made. Quite rightly, they all enjoyed being greeted with a series of ‘boos’, encouraging audience involvement. The Henchman generated comedy after being transformed into The Needle, which Aurora eventually pricks her finger on. Dressed in stretchy silver Lycra with a pointy tin-foil hat and microphone in hand, Doyle lured Macfarlane into a deep sleep whilst animatedly bopping to her own song.
Other moments, made original by the two writers, included a delirious rave by Kings Harold (Maya Masoliver) and Stefan (Gabriel Hawking). The two them, along with The Jester (Rihanna Harrison) devoured Aurora’s birthday feast, much to Queen Eleanor’s (Nia Rees) reproach. Hopefully the ‘alcohol’ that appeared to be consumed was no more than soft drink, but Masoliver (who used a very appropriate vocal pitch and poise as she moved) and Hawking did well to emphasise their gluttony as they celebrated the joining of the two kingdoms.
The director modestly referred to her show as ‘little’. However, with the resources available and the time period in which to put on production of this scale, the production crew and cast should be commended for their individual efforts as well as teamwork. This cooperation was reflected in the final song (an adaptation of Marry You) whilst all the characters celebrated the end of an entertaining and heart-warming evening.