Review: Sleeping Beauty at York Theatre Royal

It’s panto time again at York Theatre Royal and before you say: ‘Oh no it isn’t!’, let me tell you this show is definitely a one off.

Review by Angie Millard

Photos by Robling Photography

This year Berwick Kaler has stepped down as Dame after 30+ years but, as he has written the script and co-directed the show, ‘he’s behind you’ has never been more appropriate.

The York pantomime has never been traditional but it always incorporates all the conventions we Brits have learned to expect. It is our oldest form of popular theatre and caters for all ages so let’s celebrate it’s continuation!

If you are a purist, this show is not for you. Central to the production are the team who worked for many years with Berwick.

Martin Barrass plays the dame yet contributes little of the cross-gender fun associated with the role. There are no outlandish costumes or parodies of fashion and his most successful outfit is a tin of Bile beans, a reference to the advert on the wall on Lord Mayor’s Walk.

Instead, David Leonard slips into an approximation of a dame role. He plays a deliciously evil fairy and has some amusing scenes with A.J. Powell, his son and all round ‘good guy’. When a machine reverses their identities, it is easily the best effect of the evening.
Suzy Cooper is a ‘camp’ principal girl. She breezes her way through the dialogue and is apparently quite happy to change sides when threatened by a rat infested dungeon. This quartet handled most of the comedy set pieces and it works like a well-oiled machine but the morality of the old fairy tale is missing.

The spectacle and scenic effects are evident in the creation of the magic forest which grows breathtakingly around the eponymous Sleeping Beauty. There is a dragon’s head which devours the villain, giving him no chance to recant, stairs which change into slides and revolving doors. There was also the annual treat of seeing Harry Gration in drag (via video). But, for me, this panto had no heart and booing the baddie was a hollow exercise.

The music and dancing was polished and the choreography came alive in the second half where a chorus of Punks guard the Evil Diva. There is more recognisable pop music here which gives an energy lacking in the earlier pieces which were composed for the show as original music.

A panto rests on the script which should be a collection of known set pieces and some original twists on the theme. Why did I feel that the audience couldn’t be trusted to respond to this? I longed for some familiar tropes.

Finally, what would we do without the song sheet and audience participation?
We were not disappointed and the audience joined in this year’s rendition of a song about a carrot. They fought to the death to catch Wagon Wheels (in fact a grown man next to my husband dived between his legs in a most unseemly manner). I was just disappointed and felt there was far too little for the children and not much more for the adults.

Sleeping Beauty plays at York Theatre Royal until 25 January 2020. It was written by Berwick Kaler and directed by Berwick Kaler and Matt Aston. The designer is Anthony Lambie. The musical director is Elliot Styche. Choreography by Grace Harrington and Lighting Design by Mark Jonathan.