Review: Sleeping Beauty by Peter Rowe, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until January 26

It’s bright, brash, hilariously funny and absolutely chock-filled with fantastic music. Once again the New Wolsey dazzled audiences with its stunning rock’n’roll pantomime.

Last night the theatre resembled a music-filled time machine as it zipped audiences back and forth between now, the Victorian era and the Swinging Sixties – all in a panto reality of course.

After 12 years you could be forgiven for thinking that the rock’n’roll format maybe starting to wear a little bit thin but last night proved that the opposite is true – the New Wolsey’s annual shin-dig has actually been re-energised.

This has been helped by an injection of new talent. There were plenty of fresh faces on stage coupled with some New Wolsey veterans to make sure everyone stuck to the plot.

Director Rob Salmon has injected some terrific pace into proceedings and the cast seemed to be having as much fun as the audience as they fed off the shouts, boos and cheers which punctuated the action.

It was great to see the giant Will Kenning back as a marvellously mobile Dame. He brings a wonderful brand of physical comedy to augment some truly-wonderful groan-inducing jokes. He played well opposite Sean Kingsley’s gloriously befuddled King Candlestick Camelot.

The story is presided over by Fairy Fanciful, played with a knowing air by Esther Biddle, with some help from trainee sprite Frederica (Sarah Mahoney) who came across as the only fairy to have graduated from St Trinian’s.

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It was good to see Peter Manchester, who recently played Cyril in Mods and Rox, back to play the romantic lead Simon Steadfast while Lilly Howard channelled the spirit of the sixties as the romantic Princess Suzy.

As King Camelot himself pointed out: “Suzy is not a usual name for a princess but it makes a nice link to a song in the second half.” The New Wolsey panto has now got to such an advanced stage that not only are they signalling bad jokes they are anticipating musical numbers as well. Sure enough the second act opened with the Everley Brothers classic Wake Up Little Suzy.

Music, as ever, plays an important part in the show with songs as diverse as Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song), My Guy and Disco Inferno showcasing the abilities of the multi-talented cast. Also the entrance of Morgana, the evil fairy, was accompanied by some wonderful live mood music which encouraged the audience to boo and hiss her every entrance.

The set and lighting from Diego Pitarch and Richard G Jones was excellent and added hugely to the atmosphere.

This production of Sleeping Beauty should go down as a classic. It blends great set-piece elements with some hugely energetic and performances which is then topped off with some fantastically entertaining rock’n’roll classics – could anyone ask for more?

Andrew Clarke

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