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Sleeping Beauty By Chipperfield Theatre Group

2nd of March 2006

If you want authentic opera, they say you should go to the Royal Opera House. For the ultimate Shakespeare experience then The Globe Theatre is a pretty good bet. But if it’s a good old fashioned pantomime you are after then, on the evidence of Chipperfield Theatre Group’s Sleeping Beauty, you need only walk the short distance to the Village Hall.
Wendy Marchant has directed a few of these and it shows. The scene is set so perfectly by the Good Fairy Lilac and Bad Witch Hazel who begin their verbal sparring in rhyme. Jo Halkett has bloomed as an actress and brought a calm, re-assuring – almost maternal – authority to her role. Despite the misadventures of the cast, her whole demeanour conveyed an aura that everything was going to be alright. In contrast – maybe it was the cat suit – but the marvellous Sarah Jane Bottrill, brought a devilish lascivious quality to her role as the bad witch which gave her scheming an enticing edge and magnified the juxtaposition.
The excellent chemistry between the pair was central to the success of the production but, as we’ve been spoilt to expect, their excellence was paralleled elsewhere. Each of the central figures was given their moment in a series of introductory scenes which laid essential groundwork for the rest of the plot. Paul Instrall was a charming court jester (Muddles); Bill Callcut played a wonderful dame and the stooges who so often in pantomimes are just album fillers, very often stole the show. I am a huge fan of Wendy East and she was fabulous yet again. So for newcomer Amanda Cook to match her excellence in her debut performance was an extraordinary achievement. One sketch, where sentences were completed with town names being read from envelopes, (“She complained of headaches. But I thought she must be… FAKENHAM”), highlighted their mastery. The Two Ronnies could not have timed it better.
This sketch was an example of a script which worked perfectly because it was both good and “so bad it’s good” in equal measure. The best traditions of panto were interspersed with mentions of mingers and The Simpsons which made it accessible to the children in the audience and the set, costumes and lighting were worthy of a professional production. If anything, the whole thing just seemed to run too smoothly. Even one momentary lapse was brilliantly excused as a “Senior Moment.” And when the ad-libs are better than the script, you know you’ve got a cast on top of their game.
The second half of the pantomime didn’t quite match the first. Because singing and voice projection isn’t a premier forte of the cast, I thought one of the slow songs could have been cut and, while I am not offended by its content, I didn’t think the rendition of the classic playground rhyme “My Friend Billy” was really necessary or, if it was, played for maximum laughs. But, then again, maybe if I was a child hearing it for the first time I would have guffawed.
I certainly did my fair share of that tonight! Jason Cox

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