Durham Gala Theatre's production of Sleeping Beauty
IF it ain’t broke, don’t fix it could well be the motto for the Gala’s pantomime and, having reviewed this festive favourite for the past few years, I’d have to agree with it.
Writer-director Simon Stallworthy has hit on a winning formula and a tried-and-tested local team, including (annual baddie) Neil Armstrong and (nice but dim) Paul Hartley, to bring us a show steeped in all the best panto traditions.
This year the regulars are joined by Steve Fortune as Dame Miriam, who wastes no time in picking out a new boyfriend from the audience, while a little girl from another row lends her name (Caitlin, on the night I went) to Princess Aurora (played by Christina Cuttell) so she can grow up under a secret identity to keep her safe from harm.
It’s this kind of audience participation that makes the show such a family-friendly and good-natured one, with children bonding immediately with Silly Billy (Hartley) and Dame Miriam in her increasingly outlandish outfits against the sort of boo-hiss villain they really love to hate.
In a fresh twist to the fairytale, it’s Scorchard the Wizard who casts the evil spell on Aurora – which good Fairy Melusine (Samantha Phyllis Morris) does her best to dilute – and Armstrong is in full panto villain mode here, although out to wind up, rather than scare, the audience “peasants”.
With a few more near-the- knuckle jokes than usual aimed over the heads of little ones, this is traditional panto fare and a real crowd-pleaser, with live music, good chorus dancing, lots of energy and colour, and slapstick antics, particularly in the messy cooking scene and in having King Tickle (David Redgrave) hilariously muddling his words.
In addition to the rather lovely old-fashioned-style scenery of fairy castles and sunlit woods is a hugely effective projection of a swooping, soaring dragon which Prince Roger (Ian Curran) and his hapless helpers must battle with as they cut a path through the forest to reach the princess.
It works well and looks great and the same can be said for the whole production which was a hit with youngsters and adults alike.