Having lived in Swanage for 12 years I have a real soft spot for Swanage and for the Mowlem, having spent many happy hours treading its boards. So, it was a real pleasure for me to come to the Mowlem tonight to see Sleeping Beauty.
What can I say about it? Although it didn’t really feel like it (mostly), it was long, the first half running for just shy of 90 minutes, the second about an hour. Certainly the large audience were having a good laugh and enthusiastically participating in the usual panto banter. There were a couple of points where it dragged, mainly the scenes with the huge chorus, although there was one young blond haired boy who was clearly having a whale of a time. They had performed a matinee earlier in the day; it wouldn’t surprise me if they were tired. That might also account for Queen Hyacinth’s (Jacqui Chater) voice that was all but gone – a horrible thing to happen to any actor; I felt for her.
If there were a prize for the number of one line gags you can get into a panto, this one would win hands down. I have never heard so many. And they were good too. The script, written by Pat Jones and Brian Travers, was ingenious; the lengths they’d go to just to spin another joke knew no bounds. Which, funnily enough, brings me on to costumes.
There were lots and they were fantastic, prize for most outlandish going to Dame Dockleaf (Brian Travers), who was everything a Dame should be and played with extreme enthusiasm and energy. Brian established a great rapport with the audience.
This enthusiasm and energy, thinking about it, was something that characterised the performance. The principles were, by and large, supercharged, the chorus less so.
The show opened with flower fairies dancing to Tchaikovsky. The backdrop and lighting were gorgeous. The dancing was pretty good too and then the principle fairies entered: Anenome (Tom Eastcott-Jones) the organiser, Bluebell (Stewart Jones) away with the, well, the fairies, and hyperactive Dandelion (James Chelton). Bluebell was an astonishingly good little mover, and Dandelion was another of those very high energy performances. The three, part of the seven strong Swanage National Institute of Flower Fairies, which included Bilberry (Jessica Stearn), Marjoram (Leah West), Mistletoe (Lauren Brown) and Violet (Madeleine Matthews), were really the engine that drove the story along.
Carabosse the wicked fairy (Ro Smith) was everything we wanted from a baddy. She had the audience booing and hissing like their lives depended on it. She was very ably supported by her strange and sycophantic to a tee hybrid plant Henbane (loved the arm), so beautifully played by Pat Jones. The pair were a delight to watch. And their rendition of a song based on ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ by Taylor Swift, was the highlight of the show for me. Which neatly brings me onto the songs…
There were a lot of songs. And a revelation.
When I do panto, I have a rule that songs should be kept to about 90 seconds otherwise some of the audience gets bored and there is mixed singing ability in amdram. So it was that, with the exception of ‘Look…’, the songs were too long. Cutting them down could have reduced the length of the show.
The revelation: I’ve always thought you should have singers for the songs, but I discovered that if you have enough enthusiasm you just don’t need the voice. I’ve never seen such a large company with so few singers, but it actually worked; somehow it didn’t matter and was hilarious in a good way.
Finally, if you’re going to have a dragon in your panto it has to go one of two ways. Silly and jokey or big and scary. Swanage is a hot-bed of creative talent and Jonathan Searle’s Dragon was absolutely brilliant, huge and rivalling anything from Jurassic Park; I wonder how long he’s been having these Disney spells!
Overall this was a great night out and a lot of good clean fun for all the family. It’s on again next weekend so go out and get your tickets.