Reviewing a pantomime almost seems like an exercise in pointlessness; as if a coach-load of excitable sugar-rushing children will give two stuffs what a website says about weedy plots or sickly romances.
Crap gags, innuendos, pop-culture references, pop songs, Liverpool references, a romance, a baddie, a dame, water pistols… Sleeping Beauty treads a familiar path but, as a result, the end result is polished and the familiarity is welcome.
The Everyman’s rock’n’roll panto, now as much a fixture of Christmas as Royal Institution Christmas lectures and ‘one-off’ sitcom comebacks, is back for the last time at the Everyman before its renovation and there’s a cast of familiar faces returning with it.
Written by musical panto veterans Sarah Nixon and Mark Chatterton, there’s a clear formula to the annual campathon but it’s as warm and familiar as a slug of malt whisky – or cup of cocoa. It’s a genuine pleasure to see Adam Keast and Francis Tucker together on stage again, along with Nicky Swift, basically playing the same role (and in same outfit) she does every year.
Also back are Sarah Vezmar – last year’s slinky, sexy cat in Puss In Boots in the lead role of Ruby (guess which song hails her arrival in the script) – and Jonny Bower and Catherine Henderson, lending musical and acting accompaniment to the main players.
David McGranaghan and Mathew Wycliffe are bad and good, figuratively speaking, as baddie and goodie. McGranaghan’s signing and dancing seemed particularly accomplished; while Bower’s axe work was particularly noticeable among the many talents on show. Every member of the cast sings, dances (after a fashion in some cases), acts and plays multiple instruments; you’ve got to hand it to them.
The set and the costumes, so often overlooked in reviews like this, were very good, with Tucker’s outfits becoming more and more absurd until his final effort, which really took the, er, cake.
The plot, such as it is, is slight and a tad slapdash, requiring a virtual deus ex machina to bring things to a conclusion, but it takes a bit of a scrooge to complain about the workings of a pantomime. With a less talented ensemble, mind, Sleeping Beauty might feel rather ramshackle. Additionally, a few of the songs proved an unwelcome addition, feeling forced and rather twee.
Frankly, though, everything else is something of a footnote to the Keast and Tucker show, reprising the queeny King and Queen roles respectively. To see them attempting to trip up the other; mugging through their lines and clearly having a whale of a time is great fun.
The humiliation meted out to a luckless audience member – hello, David! – and water pistol frenzies were overseen with relish by Tucker particularly, and his superb pairing with Keast kept kids and adults alike delighted, despite some very rude gags.
Ah, yes, the kids. Would there be pantos without children? It’s an intriguing question; we all love to revert to childishness for a couple of hours from time to time after all. Luckily, the kids absolutely love Sleeping Beauty.
And why not? The rock’n’roll panto provides an annual excuse for the cast to thoroughly enjoy themselves, almost as much as the audience do. It’s glorious, ridiculous, riotous fun and, coming off a long run of some fairly weighty material, it’s nice to see the Everyman let its hair down and enjoy a knees-up.
Sleeping Beauty (the rock’n’roll panto)
Until 22 January
You can buy Game For Fame, a game for all the family devised by Sleeping Beauty’s David McGranaghan by clicking on the link