"Sleeping Beauty" (Oh, No it isn’t)

It’s panto time again!

Last night, as I do every year, I went to Greenwich Theatre’s latest offering to the festive gods. Usually a whole bunch of us go and it signals the beginning of the Christmas season.

Actually, after last year I hadn’t intended to bother with this one – I had been very disappointed with the production.

I had been sad to see London Bubble stop doing the panto at Greenwich – “artistic differences” was the reason quoted. Bubble’s rough-and ready style doesn’t always hit the mark – and sometimes the miss is quite wide – but it’s always interesting. I used to particularly love the dame who made no effort whatsoever to be anything other than a bloke in a dress and was all the funnier for it, but other bits were often rather lame in the director’s quest not to “do panto” – apparently he hates the medium and spent most of his time trying to create anything other than good old fashioned fun – which in my book is a shame. Panto is what it is and that’s it.

I was very pleased to see that the replacement company was to be Natural Theatre. Which made my disappointment last year double. Perhaps, I thought afterwards, I had been expecting too much – after all Natural Theatre was one of my favourite theatre companies when I was a student and many years later, memories of people wearing flower pots instead of heads and productions such as Scarlatti’s Birthday and Eat Me had possibly warped to unattainable brilliance in my mind. But the script was poor, the Dame wasn’t the indomitable Ralph Oswick but some bloke who wished he was Eddie Izzard and wasn’t and the whole thing was very lacklustre. Only Abanazer was any good.

So I took the precaution this year of getting really rather drunk before seeing the show. I needn’t have bothered. This year’s show is everything last year’s wasn’t. It’s slick, fast-paced, funny, silly, tuneful and good to look at. The performances are spot-on – especially that of Paul Critoph as the King (just wonderful – a literally-rounded, jolly Ole King Cole of a performance which made me smile whenever he was onstage) and Andrew Pollard as Nanny Fanny – clearly a very experienced dame – and writer. Even the leads – usually thankless wet roles- were sparky and fun. Lots of good effects and appropriate songs – not performed to death – and fun for kiddies and adults in equal measure. I particularly liked the good fairy singing “holding out for a hero” and the rude banana gag. I inwardly groaned when the obligatory “lovers’ song” began, but ended up laughing the most at the naughty upstaging that the rest of the cast indulged in mercilessly behind the hapless pair.

Just in case it seems that I may have had my judgement impaired, I brought along several friends who were driving and therefore drinking very responsibly indeed – and they loved it too – even the curmudgeon who normally hates panto.

Seriously folks. Grab a kid (or a kid-at-heart) and see this show. It’s fabulous.

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