Play: Sleeping Beauty
Theatre: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Book and lyrics: Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton
Original music and lyrics: Robert Hyman
Director: Matthew Xia
Review by Joy Francis
In the #MeToo era, having a panto based on a classic fairy tale is increasingly a hard sell, with its outdated gender stereotypes. Hence why experimentation is vital.
Take Sleeping Beauty. Featuring a heroine who sleeps for 100 years until a handsome prince wakes her up with a chaste kiss isn’t going to fly in 2018. Unless, as in this production, you call her Scarlett, give her flaming red hair and bestow her with martial arts skills and eco warrior sensibilities. Then you might just get away with it.
As for the retelling of a familiar story… Once upon a time in the distant future, a coterie of sparkly DM-wearing fairies in their swish psychedelic workshop are happily polishing gold and silver encrusted balls of wishes. Until Fairy Borealis (the multi-talented Alice Frankham channelling Sue Pollard) rolls in an oversized mother of a Royal wish that has been hanging around unfulfilled for decades. The wish, from King Percy (Joshua Elliott) and Queen Pearl (Shaun Prendergast) of East Stratford, is for a baby.
Mortified, Fairy Stardust (the quirky Krystal Dockery) instructs her fellow fairies not to tell fallen fairy Mautitious Le Vicious (the charismatic Josephine Melville) about the plan. The wish is granted as a baby girl and all the fairies are invited to the naming ceremony. To protect her, the fairies bestow Scarlett with special skills, such as martial arts and archery, complete with her own golden bow.
Being a wicked witch, Mautitious finds out and with the help of her sidekick Crow (Frankham), she conjures up a curse for Scarlett to die by a pin prick from a spinning wheel when she turns 21.
The King and Queen hide out in Epping Forest until Mautitious’ curse passes its deadline. Scarlett (the delightful Ericka Posadas) grows up to be a nature loving, tree hugging teenager, oblivious that her life is in danger.
After of years of searching for Scarlett, Mautitious perfects a spell that reveals her whereabouts. To complete her dirty deed, she transforms Crow into a cute dude called Forrest (Anthony Rickman), all green spiky punk hair with matching suit and DMs.
Forrest finds Scarlett. They slowly fall for each other. He is torn as she is the girl with “the dancing eyes”. But Mautitious is having none of it. She lures Scarlett into a trap that has devastating consequences for both Scarlett and Forrest. The fairies intervene by transporting them forward in time by a century to save their lives.
What ensues in the digitally-enhanced second half, with a nod to Doctor Who and The Matrix, speaks volumes about our modern world and over-reliance on technology (Amazon’s Alexa anyone?) and selfies. Will Scarlett and Forrest be saved? Will Mautitious’ deadly Screeners capture them? And will they ever find their way back home?
Lily Arnold’s beautifully inventive set and sumptuously eccentric costumes are award-worthy. Far from roughing it in Epping Forest, the scene is more Kate Moss does glamping at Glastonbury. As for the performances, they are high octane and campalicious.
Sleeping Beauty looks and feels current, but it is not without its flaws. A tad overlong with far too much to say, it is slightly patchy in the singing department. In the first half, some of the cast seemed to find it hard to keep in register or be heard above the orchestra. Things improve in act two, where the songs are more memorable, including the hilarious Bad Girl.
What we have is a panto with aspirations to be a musical. Modern tunes by artists such as The Black Eyed Peas and Bruno Mars, mesh with dancehall and grime, alongside original compositions. Ericka Posadas has a lovely singing voice, followed closely by Anthony Rickman and Joshua Elliott.
Josephine Melville, BiBi Crew legend, is in her element as Mautitious while Alice Frankham, who like most of the cast juggles multiple roles, is a talented chameleon. Her Mirror Antoinette is a star turn.
Overall, Sleeping Beauty is a fun, visual spectacle that bombards you with sprinkle dust and good vibes, which will have you sashaying in the aisles.
Sleeping Beauty is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 12 January 2019.