Sleeping Beauty | Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury | Review

Sleeping Beauty

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

until Sunday 8 January 2023

First, an admission. Sleeping Beauty is not my favourite pantomime story. However, I have seen several Evolution pantos and if any company can flourish with the paper thin plot involving Princess Aurora who is cursed to die before the sun rises on her 21st birthday, who pricks her finger on the spindle of the only spinning wheel left in the land and who falls into a deep sleep for a hundred years that can only be ended with a kiss from her beloved, Prince Michael (TV presenter Ore Oduba), then this is the company to do it. They are simply leaps and bounds ahead of any other pantomime producer.

So after last year’s incredible Jack and the Beanstalk, do they succeed? It’s a resounding yes from this reviewer. Writer and Director Paul Hendy resists the temptation to burden his production with unnecessary gimmicks and lower case k list celebrities who simply don’t understand the genre, deciding instead to have a super-talented cast and to stick to a traditional narrative that is both a gagfest and a visual treat for all ages.

Carrie Hope Fletcher as the wittily named Carrie-bosse is a villain with an extraordinary vocal range. This is demonstrated via some expertly picked musical numbers (give it up for Musical Director and ‘the Most Enthusiastic Man in Show-business’, Chris Wong) which include Alice Cooper’s School’s Out and The Who’s Pinball Wizard – classic stuff. She is also surprisingly self-deprecating and her suggested punishment at the denouement is hilarious.

As Princess Aurora, Ellie Kingdon is also stunning helped in part by Hendy’s innovative script which doesn’t portray the Principal Girl as vulnerable and dull. Here she is brave and vivacious and the story benefits as a result. Similarly, Jennie Dale as Fairy Moonbeam comes across as a much more fleshed out character than I have seen before and her duet with Fletcher of Ugly Kid Joe’s Everything About You is the vocal highlight of the show.

Of course, any audience at a pantomime wants to laugh and this is where Evolution excel. Max Fulham as Jangles is clearly an exceptional ventriloquist however he is also an accomplished singer and dancer and you never feel like his ‘act’ has been shoehorned into the show. He is also very, very funny and the combination with Marlowe regular, Ben Roddy as Nurse Nellie is a panto dream team. Roddy is ad-libbing within seconds of his first entrance as a couple in the front row arrive late and celebrating his 14th year in Canterbury, it is Roddy who provides most of the anarchic comedy in typical Evolution-esque scenes like the Wheelbarrow of Puns, a brilliant slosh scene reminiscent of the classic Laurel and Hardy film, The Battle of the Century and a refreshingly unusual version of the traditional ghost gag.

By the end of the performance you are left with one burning question. Why can’t all pantomimes be this good. I can’t even begin to start listing the other reasons why this is an outstanding show, suffice it to say there are also exquisite sets and costumes, a breath-taking fire act, a dazzling lighting design by Jack Weir and to top it all, two very realistic velociraptors called Lloyd and Webber.

This is an exceptional theatrical experience.


Reviewer: Patric Kearns