REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

The Waterfront's production of Sleeping Beauty, directed by Lisa May from a script by Patrick J O'Reilly, is like The Great Muppet Caper brought to life on stage, at Christmas, in that self-awareness is more than something to be emphasised ahead of the story, it is the story, full stop.

Sleeping Beauty is as concept-heavy as you can expect anything from May's Bruiser Theatre Company to be, but free of the purism and restrictions of literature. Concise but smart in casting & writing, and economical but sparkling in set & costume design, it is the absolute polar opposite of its title character's dormancy.

The show is unapologetically loud, proud and camp. It is mad, and I mean – in absolutely off-the-scale levels – mad.

This is the kind of production where the baby princess is tossed in the air – don't worry, it's a doll! – in pass-the-parcel. Where the villain isn't invited to a party because it wasn't posted up on Facebook and he has no friends. And where the princess sings the closing number of the first act in a zombified state.

And yet... it works. Very, very well. It's a refreshing alternative to the flashy showiness and restrictive regimentation of many high-profile Christmas shows. Now, such madcap inanity can be off-putting – you still have to care about what's going on. But with an ensemble as compact and focused as this, that's not too big a deal. I'd be Scrooge if I thought it was.

Kicking off with a song to match the tone of The Muppets' great "Hey! A Movie!" for introductions, frills are minimised, thrills are maximised and the fourth wall is broken entirely as the genre-and-time hopping craziness is unleashed. The three fairies from Starmont (groan), otherwise known as Stardust (Emer McDaid, a sparky, hilarious presence), Muddles (Nuala Davies, ditto) and Nana "Banana" Magee (Gordon "Trudy Scrumptious" Crawford, a truly game dame) take on Gary Crossan's wickedly hammy Maleficent with all the clownish and amiable verve they can muster.

Whether or not they or Gavin Peden's Prince Harry Smiles (not Styles – this panto goes in more than one direction!) save Jolene O'Hara's lovely Princess Beauty from the dreaded curse of the spinning wheel is secondary to the puns and sketches that constantly hop back and forth over the centuries with no respect for traditional locales and narrative. And frankly, would you even want there to be? Even O'Hara looks done up like Frozen's Elsa, suggesting that we should basically (again, I can't help it) let it go – and I wouldn't disagree, especially in a small studio like the Waterfront's.

It's a given that the big production numbers are delivered with real brio, but, as is typical of May's plays, the ingeniousness is in the at times chaotic but generally clever innovation. We get moments like "The Great Maleficent Bake-Off", Muddles performing a duet with a dozing Beauty as a puppet on her knee, chat-up lines that go beyond Blind Date levels of cringe ("I'm a single Pringle if you fancy a date, once you pop, you can't..." "STOP!"), and three giant cannibalistic chickens from Kentucky (played by our good fairies!) who think princes taste finger lickin' good. (Seriously.)

By the time the motor-mouthed Stardust and Muddles conduct either side of the auditorium in a singing contest bordering on exhausting, it is hard not to join in or at least grin goofily at the various sketches May and her team have concocted purely for joy this holiday season. The Waterfront's Sleeping Beauty may or may not be "the greatest fairytale of them all", but it is definitely the best value for money panto in Belfast this Christmas. Certainly as far as we, the audience, are concerned.

Simon Fallaha

Sleeping Beauty runs at Belfast's Waterfront Hall Studio until Sunday January 7.

Recent Theatre Reviews