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Review – Sleeping Beauty – Epstein Theatre Liverpool

THERE is something suitably spring-like about the Sleeping Beauty story that makes it feel appropriate for the balmy Easter that we have been enjoying, as Regal Entertainments bring the perennial fairytale back to the Epstein for the school holidays.

Liam Mellor’s script spends a lot of its time working the various set pieces we associate with panto around the framework of the traditional story, and one of the bonuses of this is that it means Mia Molloy, who plays the title role of Aurora, gets to remain onstage for a substantial part of the show, with her lengthy slumber fast-forwarded somewhat. All the key elements of the tale are there, with the evil Carabosse casting the sleeping spell over the infant with the help of a spinning wheel, the good fairy ensuring that the curse can be lifted by the all important kiss, and the handsome prince on hand to ensure that this kiss is delivered in time to save the day.

Warren Donnelly is the King, a part we have seen him in before in St Helens, and he stamps his authority on the role with gusto. Not exactly opposite him, as she doesn’t share many scenes directly with him, is the Queen, or rather, Dame Queenie, played by Mark Two. With a trademark panoply of ever-changing costumes occasioning the catchphrase ‘D’you like me gear?’ every time they come onstage, Two makes this part all about the panto dame tradition. There is a worryingly extended scene early in the first act in which Queenie coaches the audience at considerable length in the responses required from them. This is followed immediately by a similar scene for Chester the Jester, in which Reece Sibbald goes through a corresponding list of instructions for his character. Fortunately Sibbald has a tremendous skill in reading the audience and keeping the energy flowing, without which these two scenes could easily drain too much momentum from this early part of the show. Once we are over the other side of this, however, the pace picks up considerably and the storytelling properly gets underway.

There is some well chosen music for many of the leads to shine, with particularly good vocals from Rachel Wood as Carabosse, Katy Mac as Fairy Sparkle and Molloy’s Aurora, as well as some very good turns from Lewis Burrage’s Prince. The show is full of light and colour, with a storybook feel to the painted scene cloths and a splendid array of costumes, and the six-strong ensemble of dancers complete Nazene Langfield’s choreography, keeping everything moving.

Notwithstanding the reservations mentioned above about the early stages of Act I, once the show’s engine has revved up director Chantelle Nolan keeps the pace going, and there is a great deal of fun to be had. Amongst a strong cast, it’s Sibbald who deserves the greatest plaudits for keeping the audience on side throughout. There’s a rare sort of magic that some performers have for doing this, and he has it by the bucketload.

The previously slightly over-risqué script appears to have undergone a bit of a transformation since this production last appeared onstage and, although it has the expected level of innuendo for a family panto, it never oversteps the line.

Once again, Regal Entertainments have pulled a very lively Easter Bunny out of the bonnet to bring a good dose of fun to the holidays. Sleeping Beauty continues at the Epstein Theatre until 16th April

Star Rating: Four Stars

Review by Nigel Smith

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