Review – The Scouse Sleeping Beauty – Royal Court Liverpool

AS you would expect, the Royal Court’s Scouse Sleeping Beauty is not your run of the mill family show. It’s definitely a very grownup take on the story with humour that’s as wicked as any panto villain. This said, it really is quite surprising how well it follows the greater part of the traditional story, albeit with some very local twists.

After having a curse placed on her at birth by the evil Mallefluent, the Princess Ora is taken into safekeeping in Liverpool, land of the ferries, to keep her away from sharp objects until she turns 18. Her father, the King of Poundland, and fairies Iris, Snowdrop and Daffodil while away the years under cover in a fancy dress shop until her fateful birthday arrives. Mallefluent sends her long-suffering servant Crow to search the kingdom for Ora. Cue the love interest – Scouse – a likely lad who has admired Ora as they have both grown up, and who secretly hopes to marry her.

Mallefluent, in a cunning disguise, throws a birthday party in the Spinning Wheel Club with hopes of spiking something other than Ora’s drinks, and it’s up to Scouse to save the day. A second act and a wheelie bin later the day is duly saved, and in the show’s biggest twist on the original story we come to what must be one of the most surprising and heartwarming endings of any of the Court’s Christmas shows.

Writer Kevin Fearon has come up with one of his sharpest and funniest scripts to date and the humour, although certainly bawdy, feels cleverer and tighter than usual. In a story that revolves entirely around the fear of being pricked, there is bound to be one recurring joke, but the funniest sharp object quip in the show has to be Crow’s audience aside about being double-jabbed, as he pulls arrows from his chest. Surely though it must be time to put the rather tired ribaldry about Joe Anderson and the Council to bed.

Director Stephen Fletcher has got his cast performing like clockwork and delivering the gags, both verbal and visual, with slick timing. Liam Tobin succeeds in cramming several of his nifty impersonations into his turn as the King. Jamie Clark as Ora belts out some great songs, accompanied by Emma Bispham, Hayley Sheen and Keddy Sutton – the trio of ferry-fairies – who also have some good comedy written for them. Scouse, this tale’s version of the handsome prince, has more stage time contrived for him than normal, and Michael Fletcher has great fun with the Clark Kent/Superman angle of the character.

It is the partnership of Lindzi Germain and Andrew Schofield, however, who really steal the show. We saw them do a glorious double-act on this stage in the two handed Ellen and Rigby earlier this year, and they match the rapport here, with some wonderful verbal and physical sparring. Germain makes a glorious villain, and she really knows how to get the audience going. Schofield, though, gets the highest score by far on the laugh-o-meter, with a brilliant part written for him as Crow. Looking for all the world like a Poundland version of Swan Lake’s Von-Rothbart crossed with Richard III, he milks the character for every laugh he can get. There is good reason that he is known for his physical performance as well as his deadpan delivery and asides to the crowd.

Musical Director Howard Gray and his onstage band flank a particularly clever stage design from Olivia Du Monceau, which undergoes some really cunning transformations. Special mention must go to video designer Jamie Jenkin, whose projections add the finishing touches to the set.

There are plenty of opportunities in the score for the audience to spontaneously join in with the songs but try not to sing all the way through, because you’ll miss the clever verbal tinkering that puts laughter in nearly every other line.

Anyone wanting to leave the kids at home and enjoy an antidote to family panto will find a lot to love in this show, which looks and sounds great and hits the funny bone right on target.

Star rating: 4 stars

Review by Nigel Smith