Sleeping Beauty | Review
Belfast Waterfront • Runs until 07 January 2018
By Conor O’Neill
All 333 seats of Belfast’s Waterfront Studio theatre were booked out. But alas there were a few empty seats due to the onset of snowy weather. None the less, those who had to cancel will happily read they’re in for a great night of panto.
The set is Fairyland, and director Lisa May’s usual simple but effective styling is instantly recognisable. Large wooden cartoonish trees stand either side of the stage. To the rear a castle gate and apart from a moving cauldron, and the transformation of the castle to a country cottage, the eye is left to keep track of the six actors who bring us a well-known tale with a little twist.
The mammoth form of Nana Magee is at the pointy end of most of the action and given free rein to improvise. Early in the show, she calls out to someone in the front rows: “Hey big lawd, do I know you? ‘Cos you look like my next boyfriend!”. Gordon Crawford’s stage presence is tantamount to the show. Thankfully we’re close to the Shipyard; no other centre of the industry could possibly forge her corset or weld her size God-Knows-What-Boots.
The plot is simple, the twittish King and Queen – who live in Starmont! – have been gifted with a magic child simply named ‘Beauty’. The nasty Maleficent is none too happy and goes through a host of curses before settling on: “If the child pricks her finger on a spinning wheel needle, she will die!”
Nana Magee, along with her two sidekicks Fairy Stardust and the much muddled and aptly named, Fairy Muddle, design to protect the Princess until she comes of age. Stardust played by Emer McDaid and Muddle by Nuala Davies are a comic pairing, one tripping over the other or losing the baby as Maleficent tries his hardest to deliver his curse. Gary Crossan as Maleficent is fantastic to watch and revels in the children’s energetic ‘booing’ and shouting with something approaching masochistic joy.
Of course, there’s Beauty. Jolene O’Hara plays her with a wistful grace. Her voice alone is worth the ticket price; in fact, all six cast members sing brilliantly, individually and as a unit. Choreographer Sarah Johnston has the cast well drilled.
Princess beauty needs a Prince: step forth Prince Harry Smiles ‘With All The Styles’ as he’s so quick to announce. Gavin Peden makes a swash-buckling Prince. He can handle a sword and dance with the best of them. Of course, I’m not so old as to not recognise the Harry Styles reference. But thankfully my nephew was with me to inform me on some of the songs sung. Little Mix feature heavily as well as some more recognisable tunes. I never thought I’d be at a panto including, the Congo, Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like a Woman, the Time Warp, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain and When the Saints Come Marching Home. Nor did I expect a cookery lesson on how to make the proper Princey Pie: One Prince, obviously, Sally Salt, Percy Pepper, Garlic Butter and a great big Dollop of Evil.
Maleficent is something of an entrepreneur owning both a ‘Hop-on Hop-awf’ bus company and a hotel during our trip through time and fantasy. Nana Magee quips: “Hotels and tour buses? He’s doing well for himself!”
Magee shines again during the reading of requests, a few youngsters’ birthdays are mentioned and Magee asks for the lights to go up. On seeing the audience she demands: “Nah, drop them again.” The Dundonald Presbyterian Girl Guides are in attendance: “Do youse get badges for lighting bonfires…” The Lynch family get a mention (Martin Lynch’s GBL is behind the show) and raise a cry, Maghee: “Jeez, youse sound like a small paramilitary organisation!”
The kids loved it and as much as the adults may not like to admit it, the finale dance-off had the whole hall in stitches as we were ordered by Fairydust and Muddles to dance and sing two songs at once. Spinning rounding clapping your hands and singing and seeing 300 children and adults do the same is something that will bring a smile from Scrooge.
Sleeping Beauty runs until 07 January 2018. For ticket info visit www.waterfront.co.uk or phone the box office on 02890 334455
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