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Sleeping Beauty


3 - 6th January 2007


Chris Abbott


Margaret Chick



Panto is a form of folk art and Parish Players can be justly proud of following in that tradition with this year’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, written by Chris Abbott and directed by Maggie Chick. There is something very charming about community panto – and this year’s was truly a community event, with script, actors, musicians, backstage – every part of it of local provenance. It was performed in the Parish Hall between Wednesday 3rd and Saturday 6th January 2007, including the usual matinee whose proceeds, £900, this year were donated to the NSPCC in memory of Joan Newton.

Musical direction was by David Williams, ably supported by Louise, Will and Jake in the band. They did an excellent job in weaving together the show and creating the atmosphere of enjoyment. The original songs made for added interest; I particularly liked the Huntsmens’ song which was well-pitched for the available voices and a good strong number for this climactic scene. The balance of the band with the singers was good and arrangements were interesting and varied. I did wonder whether the solo singers might have been miked, as long as the sound could be reliably balanced. The younger soloists sang beautifully but not always entirely audibly; it’s a tough ask of an untrained voice.

The Chorus looked delightful, dressed in their timeless, all-purpose bucolic garb; they had a clear confidence both in their words and moves. They sang strongly in all the big numbers and had clearly been well directed musically. Upbeat songs were without that sense of strain you sometimes get when striving for volume and at times the tone was truly sweet. The highlight for me was the lovely ‘Hushabye Mountain’ where everything came together visually and vocally in a really pleasurable end to the first half.

Toni Conyers looked exquisite as the Fairy Queen while Emily Miller looked imposingly hideous as the wicked fairy Belladonna– two delightful outfits in what was an excellent show for costume, and appropriately characterful make-up. Both these actors spoke with good projection and excellent timing; and, since the exposition of the plot came through their parts, that was pretty important. Emily toyed with the audience provocatively, while Toni managed to give her fairy a few rather arch moments. A fairy queen with attitude.

Simon Cheetham made a splendidly querulous Lord Chamberlain – with more than a touch of Malvolio about this portrayal. He was slick in his comic business scenes too, particularly the magic hat routine. While we are on the subject of comic routines, I felt that in general these might have benefited from a little tightening up. Simon’s singing was excellent and his original song ‘I’m not Little Tina Turner’ was enjoyable for an athletic capering rarely equalled on the Parish Hall stage.

Chunky the Flunky and Harold the Herald, played respectively by Chrissy Watson and Caroline Chick had a couple of great names between them and were extremely well cast as the comic duo. I liked their costumes too! We are familiar with Chrissie’s comic genius but Caroline also came into her own in this role with her gangly-gauche movements and the way she used a variety of physical techniques to point the comedy. They played well off each other and made the most of their roles.

Dame Ammonia Winterbotham, played by Chris Abbot, had a wonderful name and a wardrobe to match; it was lovely to see some glorious new costumes. She had an engaging manner and a good rapport with the audience – a very genial dame. There was perhaps a little vocal unevenness as though she was just getting used to her new pitch, but her ad libs were enjoyable. Her jokes, it must be said, were a little on the lame side and perhaps aimed more at the matinee audience than the Saturday nighters.

I enjoyed Andrea Matsell’s Queen Hypertensia, a well-written part with some good scope for characterisation which she exploited to the full. Her movement is always good in character roles- remember ‘I love to cry at weddings’? Her performance here was very funny indeed. Richard Warner’s King Rollo was a suitably benign foil, with a good range from champion of the riff-raff to protector of his daughter to some good comic business in the balloon ballet. Both are good comedians and again, they were blest with distinctive and suitably storybook regal costumes.

It’s been a long time coming but I think it’s time to mention the ‘littlies’, Joshua, Toby, Abi and Maya. This is the best use I have ever seen made of little people in any pp panto – what genius to make them the visiting princes and princesses and give them lines to say!! And didn’t they do brilliantly! All dressed up to the nines and doing exactly as they had been asked. The device for growing up princess Aurora worked beautifully and what an enchanting pose you got from Abi Payne, the smallest princess. The flower fairies Bluebell, Wisteria and Petunia , (Rosie Francis, Francesca Mason and Danielle Matsell), danced with considerable elegance and charm in their lovely outfits and added a touch of true class to the production. That whole scene of the christening was well staged and a visual treat.

Incidentally, the baby Aurora was pretty good too; I loved her fearful trembling in her mother’s arms as the evil spell was cast. All the puppets were impressive and Neil Hellard, their operator, is to be congratulated on his technique. The stork in the opening scene was well-received, as was the dragon. However more could have been done with the lighting plot here: Belladonna needed a more gruesomely green spot and the Fairy Queen a correspondingly marked pink. The dragon would have benefited from spot lighting too, particularly during his song ’It isn’t Easy Being Green. One scene which worked well in terms of lighting and choreography was the skeleton dance- very macabre.

Princess Aurora was a spirited and charming performance from Olivia Cheetham, who used her eyes to good effect and had great stage presence as well a lovely singing voice. She interacted with fellow performers confidently and dealt with some audience barracking with considerable aplomb. Prince Florizel, Charlie Hamblin, lit up the stage on his entry – he has an engaging presence and a natural energy in performance. The young casting here was very successful and I was glad the romance between the principals was handled with a light touch.

The second half of the show came up against a problem intrinsic to this story – where to go with the plot after the awakening scene. At this point, we could have done with a few more developments to weave together the varied pantomime sketches - and see a little more of Prince Florizel in action! Most obviously, he needed to deal with that dirty green fairy who didn’t ever get vanquished as a baddie should. Perhaps King Rollo should have set him some challenges to prove himself worthy of Aurora’s hand?

Implicit in all of the above is an awareness of how hard everyone worked to turn Chris’s script into a fully realised show, not least Maggie Chick whose direction pulled the rabbit out of the hat so splendidly. Congratulations to all concerned.

Sue Edwards

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