Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews the sparkling pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, at the Wolverhampton Grand
It’s that time of the year again, when stages all across Britain fill with that most festive of shows, the pantomime. The Wolverhampton Grand sees the return of its yearly panto, once again in partnership with QDOS productions, and this time it is the age-old story of Sleeping Beauty that is told in a fun evening of humour, dance and glamour.
Princess Beauty approaches her twenty first birthday, full of excitement and knowing that there is a prince (somewhat brilliantly called Harry) who loves her as much as she loves him. However, she is also unknowingly under the curse of wicked sorceress Carabosse, with this kept hidden from her by her family and protectors. When tragedy befalls them and the curse is fulfilled, the heroes band together to defeat Carabosse and free Beauty from her endless sleep.
The show is of the high quality associated with QDOS, with sparkling costumes and impressive sets. From the frankly bonkers number of outfits worn by the Dame character of the Queen, to the beautiful gowns and hats worn by the ensemble, the entire production is visually stunning. Particularly amazing is Carabosse’s Dragon minion, frankly somewhat terrifying even for the adults in the audience, as it descends to cause havoc for the heroes.
And what a group of heroes they are. Beauty, played by Bethan-Wyn Davies, is sweet as the princess who is blissfully unaware of the curse that looms over her. She is in fine voice, particularly in the duet of ‘Rewrite the Stars’ she has with her Prince, the suave and earnest Harry, played by Oliver Ormson. It is not the only Greatest Showman song to make an appearance, with a rewritten version of ‘A Million Dreams’ also a particularly sweet duet between the pair.
Ian Adams sparkles as the Dame figure of the panto, Beauty’s mother Queen Wilhemina, as he toes the line between saucy and stern. Adams also directed this production, and it is a testament to him that he is as funny onstage as he is great at orchestrating all that takes place around him, onstage and off. Richard Cadell, magician and presenter of the Sooty Show, returns to pantomime after 15 years alongside the legendary Sooty and Sweep. Cadell is involved in many of the show’s magic tricks, including a particularly eye-opening chainsaw trick, and it is clear the inclusion of Sooty and Sweep is as much of a delight for the younger audience members as it is a nostalgic remembrance for the older ones.
Debbie McGee is Fairy Crystal, the good-natured guardian of the princess. She is full of wit and sparkle, corpsing occasionally at some of the show’s more ridiculous moments, and her entrance at the beginning of act 1 is a truly magical way to begin the show. On display too are the skills that made her a favourite during her time on Strictly Come Dancing, from a beautiful (if slightly out of place) ballet, to the closing upbeat dance number with the ensemble. She’s matched by Julie Paton as Carabosse, who delights in the boos of the audience as she struts menacingly around the stage. It’s a testament to her excellent vocals and confident villainy that the audience applauds her bows, before remembering the customary panto villain boos, and indeed the choreography she has done for this production is also to be applauded, particularly in the larger ensemble numbers.
However, standout amongst the cast is Wolverhampton favourite Doreen Tipton, here playing the put upon and brutally honest nurse/nanny of the princess. She is hilarious in every moment she’s onstage, making jokes about everything from local places to Brexit and the NHS. With many of the jokes aimed at the adults in the audience, she gets great roars of laughter throughout, and her duet of ‘Bosom Buddies’ with Ian Adams is rather brilliant.
The evening has much for those of all ages to enjoy, such is the joy of panto. There are familiar songs (such as a certain shark-related viral sensation), some brilliant (and some groanworthy) puns, and a familiar tale of hope, love and celebration. Sleeping Beauty is truly a delight for the festive season.