Director: Rebecca Gadsby
Writer: Laura Turner
Music: Richard Main
Reviewer: James Martin
The Public Reviews Rating:
Today Chapterhouse Theatre Company put on a children’s adaptation of the enchanting and timeless classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in the wonderfully serene setting of Mapledurham House. This was billed as a family-friendly day out with fancy dress, bouncy castle, refreshments and the suggestion of bring-your-own rugs and picnics for this open-air extravaganza. It is important to note that this was far more than simply a children’s play and the company tried their upmost for it to be an interactive and educational experience for the younger generation as well as an enjoyable performance.
Laura Turner had written an original script for this production that was child centric and revolved around the theme of Louisa, a London evacuee played by Lauren Harvey joining a country family in 1942. Between the five children and their engaging housekeeper, they decide to pass the time by putting on their own production of Sleeping Beauty, transforming their everyday personas into the characters featured in the play. The idea of kids performing in their back garden using ordinary props and their imagination was aimed to inspire and encourage, however, the evacuation plotline lacked any form of depth and was never actually explained. This promoted integration and the interval was addressed by the children suggesting that father had called them in for tea.
During the interlude all the children were encouraged to join in a game and sing-along on the lawn by the actors which was a great change of pace and provided another form of entertainment and an energy release for all. Unfortunately what followed can only be described as an opening of the heavens as umbrellas went up, raincoats hurriedly adorned, seats and rugs abandoned, before eventually we all evacuated the performance area for shelter. During the torrential down pour I thought there was no possible way that the play would be concluded; the stage was awash, the seats soaked, belongings drowned, but the actors and to my surprise the children were not fazed by this and normal service resumed with a modicum of sunshine.
The second half brought about a stronger performance from all and the audience were captivated by a series of comic elements such as the prince, played by Samuel John, riding through the crowd on a pink fluffy toy horse and cameo appearances from Milky White, the endearing pet cow. The actors improvised to the changing weather and ever more excitable crowd, and the fact they could perform on the rain-soaked stage and still captivate a sodden crowd was testament to their performance levels. Plus some clever writing gave the occasional chuckle to the adults such as when Sleeping Beauty herself said to her ever reliable fairy godmother, strongly (and very camply) played by Jackson Pentland that not all fairies were women.
Unfortunately there were a few elements that were not as strong such as the basic set design, the lack of musical accompaniment (although the occasional song was performed to help keep things different) and voices not carrying to the crowd in parts. The company had made the decision not to have microphones but the odd line, mainly from Harvey, was lost to the wind. Most troubling, however, was the attempt at randomly explaining where babies came from and outlining the stork idea to the audience. This was totally unnecessary and I can imagine that various parents in the audience may have been frowning at bringing up the delicate subject to an audience of varied ages.
Nevertheless, the whole day was an enjoyable experience and put on very well for the children who gave the biggest seal of approval by staying despite the rain and seemed spellbound by the story unfolding on stage.
Sleeping Beauty- Mapledurham House, Reading,