An almost uniquely and glorious British phenomena, the ever popular Pantomime season has been in full swing for several weeks already and continues through to the end of January or thereabouts. The importance of Pantomimes for the vitality and financial viability of local and national live theatre (professional and amateur productions alike) cannot be underestimated: for some people the annual outing to the ‘Panto’ will be their only encounter with live theatre, and many budding actors, dancers or singers are given their first opportunity to perform in front of a public audience in a Pantomime. So, with the Christmas festivities now behind us, a great way to help navigate through the early January doldrums is to support and enjoy one of the numerous Pantomimes on offer locally. For people living in the New Milton area a good choice would be Sleeping Beauty, which is being presented by the New Forest Players at the New Milton Memorial Hall until Sunday 5 January.
This production is an adaptation of the delightful and much loved tale of Sleeping Beauty, with an expertly crafted script by Pantomime maestro Alan P Frayn. The result is an updated retelling of the story with originality and characters that have extravagant names (such as King Cactus!), accompanied by general silliness that develops into a magical world of fun and entertainment. There are jokes aplenty and a succession of funny lines, with a sprinkling of topical content and some familiar old chestnuts, complete with a good helping of adult innuendo (essential to a Pantomime), that bring forth lots of groans and laughter from the audience, young and old alike. The songs have been chosen with care and are a mix of familiar favourites and contemporary pop that fit well with the storyline and weave seamlessly into the dialogue and unfolding action, which all bounces along at a lively pace.
As we all know, no one should go to a Pantomime if they are not prepared to join in with the fun by clapping along to the songs and responding with the standard Panto catchphrases. Audience participation is an area in which this show is particularly strong and everyone is encouraged to hiss, boo and shout out the appropriate words on cue and with gusto.
There is a large cast in this production, almost 50 performers including the chorus, and everyone across the board sings their hearts out, dancing and delivering their lines well. There isn’t space in this review to mention everybody, but we should single out Alan Whitty who plays the Dame Nurse Hetty Harpic (who claims to be “clean round the bend”!), Martin Cox who plays Muddles, the Master of Ceremonies and clown (complete with an impressive Harlequin costume), Judy Anders who gives a star turn as Bad Witch Hazel, Emily-Jane Charge as the enchanting Good Fairy Lilac, Amelia Shipton as the lovely Princess Rose, Martin Bloor and Kerry Bloor as dim witted and clueless King Cactus and Queen Marigold, Jude Young as the handsome and dashing Prince Alexis, and Polly Glyde and Tina Ward who give splendid comic performances as the hapless pages Fetch and Carry. Special mention must also be made of Honey Neale, Megan Guppy, Niamh Tilley, Emily Day and Imogen Scannell who are bewitching as well as extremely cute in their performances as the five young Rainbow Fairies.
It really goes without saying that a show of this scale requires a large production and backstage crew, and each and every one involved can be pleased with their efforts. The Costumes are first rate and the ever-changing scenery of story book backcloths are excellent. Director Sarah Haberfield can be rightly proud of her achievements with this production.
Are there any faults or flaws or areas that could be improved? Perhaps, but none of that really matters when you leave the theatre feeling as if you’ve been thoroughly entertained and are already looking forward to next year’s production!