Review Sleeping Beauty, Theatr Clwyd by Donna Williams

Celia Cruwys-Finnigan as Muddles, Phylip Harries as Nurse Nellie and Dan Bottomley as King Dom in Sleeping Beauty at Theatr Clwyd. Picture by Andrew AB Photography

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Theatr Clwyd is currently undergoing lots of exciting changes including the refurbishment of the Anthony Hopkins theatre in which their annual rock ‘n’ roll panto usually takes place. Therefore, this year sees its transition to the Big Top. Seating over 900 audience members on three sides of the stage, this circus style performance arena is certainly a break from the norm. And maybe it’s the change from what has always worked that left this year’s production missing a little je ne sais quoi. Although magical in other ways; the in-the-round style of theatre, the magnificent costumes (just when you think Phylip Harries’ dame can’t get anymore whacky!) and a rip-roaring rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas complete with oversized props and plenty of audience participation- the production just gets a bit lost on this huge stage. The small cast are constantly present, unless darting off for a quick costume change, and they frequently come out of character and point fun at the fact that it takes them a long time to get from one side of the stage to the other!

On entering the auditorium, we are greeted with an open stage: giant web-like dreamcatchers hang from each side and a huge, sparkly spider (Olwen, voiced by Sian Gibson) hovers in the corner. As the show begins, she speaks, and it seems that she will be the narrator throughout. However, Olwen the spider is then only alluded to on a couple of occasions. Nevertheless, the concept of spiders and webs seems to be present throughout, Dame Nurse Nellie even fashioning an impressive costume of silky spider webs in the finale and yet there is no ‘through’ story regarding spiders and no version of the classic tale that I can remember, involving a spider. This concept just doesn’t seem to come into fruition.

Chris Patterson’s writing offers the usual ‘oh no he isn’t’, ‘oh, yes, he is’ type interactions as well as plenty of boos, hisses and an audience soaking! The most memorable gag, well deserving of a mention, happens when Nurse Nellie chooses her favourite male ‘victim’ from the audience, sits him down on a cinema chair with a box of popcorn and reminisces about their first date- using film titles as (rather naughty) puns! A lot of the jokes this year push the boundaries between child friendly and adult humour which works well (phew!). However, it feels that there is a lot of unnecessary toilet humour this time around. I’ve been known to enjoy a good old ‘fart’ gag now and again but more than a couple and they start to lose their droll. Always refreshing is the use of the Welsh language, heard plentifully throughout the production as the plot is brought to Mold Castle with mentions of Rhyl, Abergele and other local areas and landmarks, allowing the audience to feel more engaged with the action.

This production includes a stellar cast with fantastic vocals, super talented musicianship and a varied repertoire of songs including Destiny’s Child’s Bootylicious sung wonderfully by the three fairies(with cleverly altered lyrics- ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this fairy!), a beautiful rendition of Coldplay’s Fix You accompanied by the audience swaying their phone lights in the air and Ben Locke’s accomplished version of Kate Bush’s Babooshka (in fact, Kate Bush features again later on- thank you Stranger Things!).

It’s difficult to single out any cast member as all are truly fantastic in their own right. However, standouts for me are returning cast member Dan Bottomley as King Dom who brings just the right about of comedy and sentiment to Beauty’s father, and Alice McKenna as Fang who is often a standout for me each year and whose vocals truly raise the roof. Special mention, as always, must go to Phylip Harries’- in his 20th year in panto at Theatr Clwyd he certainly doesn’t disappoint- it’s difficult to imagine this Christmas tradition without him!

Despite the move to the Big Top, Theatr Clwyd’s rock ‘n’ roll panto still packs a punch and I’m always in awe of its triple threat performances and unique take on the classic fairytale. Oh yes, I am!

Theatr Clwyd, Mold

December 8th, 2023- January 6th, 2024

Writer: Chris Patterson

Directors: Francesca Goodridge and Daniel Lloyd

Assistant Director: Juliette Manon

Casting Director: Kay Magson CDG

Set and Costume Design: Adrian Gee

Musical Director: Tayo Akinbode

Choreographer: Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster

Lighting Designer: Johanna Town

Sound Designer: Matthew Williams

Fight Director: Kaitlin Howard

Company Stage Manager: Cassey Driver

Deputy Stage Manager: Edward Salt

Assistant Stage Manager: Emma Hardwick

Technical Assistant Stage Manager: Jay Kemble

Cast includes: Dan Bottomley, Celia Cruwys-Finnigan, Theo Diedrick, Phylip Harries, Emma Kinney, Ai Kumar, Caitlin Lavagna, Ben Locke, Alice McKenna, Georgina White

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