THE big problem with Sleeping Beauty is that it is a story that ends too soon – as a pantomime, the big scene is the one where Princess Aurora pricks her finger on the spinning wheel brought to the palace by the wicked fairy Carabosse, and the Fairy Queen saves the day by putting everyone to sleep for 100 years.
It only remains for a handsome prince to slash his way through a century of brambles and vicious undergrowth and kiss her back to life. Everyone lives happily ever after. This does not take long in panto terms. It makes for a very short second half.
So it’s great to find a version of Sleeping Beauty which extends the fairytale into a story of two halves, and gives Carabosse much more to do. This is, of course, a good thing, because, as we all know, from Milton onwards, the Devil has the best tunes.
Stephen Duckham’s Sleeping Beauty, chosen by Shaftesbury Arts Centre for the 2020 pantomime, gives Carabosse (Joni de Winter, complete with ghastly, bone-chilling laugh) a great deal to do, and in the process gives the audience a lot more black magic and adventure. It’s also good for the Prince, who has more opportunities to slap his thigh and brandish his sword before he wins his Princess.
The Prince (Sophie Lester) appears early in this version, arriving late for the line-up of potential princely husbands for the about-to-be 18 year old Aurora (Kate Murray). It’s good to see a traditional principal boy, and one who can sing, dance and slap her thigh with panache. And it’s a welcome change to have a princess who is feisty and makes up her own mind.
There is some imaginative good magic from the Fairy Queen (Susan Grant) to bring the Prince and Princess together after 100 years, before the greater powers of the evil fairy, with her monstrous companion, Phantom the cat (Hannah Hunter-McIlveen), snatch Aurora away from her happy ending.
These aren’t the only innovations in Duckham’s new version of the old story – comic interludes come not only from Nanny Nora (Tom Murray) but from the impish Barney (Sam Basinger-Adams); the King and Queen (Bryan Farrell and Marie Stubbs) are a recognisable old married couple; and there is even a familiar children’s story Beast (Dave Cromwell) lurking in the Petrified Forest.
Director Sue Cadmore ensures that the action keeps moving, with just enough audience participation and excellent use of the whole auditorium. The music is in the capable hands of the Court Quartet (Elaine Korman, Richard Clarke, Kelvin Bryant and Jerome Pegler) and as always there are attractive sets and colourful costumes, with plenty of changes for the Dame.
Sleeping Beauty continues at the Arts Centre in Bell Street until Saturday 1st February.