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Sleeping Beauty – Richmond Theatre, London

Writer: George Wood

Director: Fenton Gray

Reviewer: Ian Foster


Richmond Theatre’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty was originally scheduled to feature Brian Blessed as a wicked wizard but he was forced to withdraw at late notice due to a health issue and fortunately long-time friend of the theatre Anita Dobson was able to fill in as the show was reworked to turn the wizard back into an evil fairy: the show must go on!

It really is a mixed bag from top to bottom. Dobson is just brilliant as the wicked fairy Carabosse, displaying a terrifying amount of energy and a terrific pair of pins, with a performance which is certifiably bonkers and deliciously good fun as she works the audience expertly. And then there’s Tim Vine as court jester Jangles whose turn could have been lifted almost straight from one of his stand-up shows and herein lies its weakness. While he is undeniably extremely funny (even if much of the audience were a little more equivocal), his constant patter of quick one-liners throughout the show didn’t always feel particularly well-integrated as he is most often playing Tim Vine rather than Jangles: a curious choice in this traditionally mounted family pantomime.

This was simply exacerbated by the relative weakness of the script though with little real laughs coming from anywhere else with solid, rather than distinctive, performances being the order of the day from the cast. Musically, there’s some great use of Queen songs (I wonder how they got the rights for those…?!), Don’t Stop Me Now delivered by Dobson and the company is uniquely brilliant but too often, the production falls back on pop songs with a vaguely appropriate title with no concession to rewording lyrics to make them fit. And none of the original songs that appear on a regular basis really made much impact, no matter how well sung they were by the likes of Jon Robyns and Jodie-Lee Wilde.

Fortunately things picked up considerably after the interval with an inspired take on The Twelve Days of Christmas which finally connected perfectly with the audience as Vine and two of the male ensemble members ripped through a reworked version of the songs, with props, to hilarious effect. And with the audience visibly engaged, the cast relaxed into a much easier second half. But symptomatic of the whole production, the traditional sing-along and inviting kids from the audience onto the stage came right at the very end as an add-on rather than a part of the show and while Vine’s skewering of the typical employment of the fathers of these Richmond children was hysterical, it came dangerously close to leaving the kids bewildered.

Ultimately there are things which will improve as the run progresses as Vine (hopefully) retargets some of his humour, Sophie Isaacs relaxes a little more into becoming a genuinely engaging princess and Fenton Gray could risk a broader, bawdier approach to his Nurse Penny. But I fear that the writing of this particular Sleeping Beauty is just too weak and too reliant on Vine’s own brand of humour for it to be a truly great show despite the sterling efforts of Anita Dobson. Perhaps I am being too harsh and over-analytical, but given the standard of other pantomimes in the London area with their lyrical invention and genuine warm humour, I could not help but be a little disappointed.

Runs until 16th January

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  1. Seriously Ian! Get off your high horse and chill out a little. I took my American wife to her first panto tonight – Christmas Eve – and Sleeping Beauty in Richmond was a triumph! Tim Vine was hilarious and the whole cast brought the house down with some enormous fun and entertaining singing and dancing.

    Really Ian – you cannot over-intellectualise this kind of entertainment – please get rid of all those ghosts from goodeness knows where and have a great Christmas – I hope the cast of Sleeping Beauty do aswell because they deserve some well earned time off!

  2. Jeanette Prince

    We all had the best time ever,there as nothing wrong with this show and the sparkly costumes were wonderful and we loved the fairy outfits and familiar songs.
    Having a famous comedian at our local theatre was a real privilege and all of the performers, including the dancing children were great.

  3. I went with my family, including my 2 grandchildren, to see the show this evening and we absolutely loved it. We all laughed so much. This is the 4th panto I’ve been to at Richmond and I think this was definitely the best. Well done to everyone especially Tim Vine, Anita Dobson and Fenton Gray.

  4. Went to see the Panto last night and it was hilarious – Tim Vine was brilliant, with jokes aimed at adults (about 75% of the audience) and the children. All the cast were obviously enjoying themselves and yes, I agree that some of the songs were a not relevant to the plot, but they were songs the children would recognise and therefore suitable for this type of show. Well done Richmond Theatre for an excellent Panto. By the way, I will never be able to listen to the 12 days of Christmas again without thinking about ‘that’ version – we were singing it in the car on the way home !!!

  5. We obviously have the same background and the same view of perfection. For me, Ian, your review was spot on, even if I saw it near the end of its run. I enjoyed the evening, Anita Dobson was only excellent, but I could not have written a more accurate review. Keep up the good work.