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Sleeping Beauty. Magna Vitae Productions. Online December 2021.

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Sleeping Beauty

Magna Vitae Productions

The Embassy Theatre, Skegness

December 2021

Executive Producer Pollyanne Trapmore-Shaw

Technical Producer Matt Oscroft

Director & Choreographer Cameron Hall

Vocal Director Jesus Vidorreta

Script Cameron Hall & Pollyanne Trapmore-Shaw

Once upon a time, we were due to visit the Embassy Theatre at Skegness in person to enjoy their 2021 pantomime, Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately, a bout of illness (thankfully non-COVID) stopped us from getting there. Thanks must be extended to the staff at the Embassy for understanding, especially to Brendan Bugg who knew that we would have loved to attend and see this show. Instead, the company had filmed the show for online viewers and Brendan kindly allowed me access to the recording and provided production photography that accompanies this review.

It is never as good watching a live recording on a laptop, as it is watching it in the intended space. I have watched a lot of recorded performances over lockdown. People think it is easy to film a show and pop it on the internet but few theatres have the facilities (or budget) available to the National Theatre and so creating a show that can compete is difficult. I have witnessed some real stinkers who thought that they had done a great job. I am pleased to report that this show from Magna Vitae Productions is not one of them.

It is a reduced cast panto, as dictated by the current circumstances as social distancing is difficult. Nevertheless, the Embassy has produced a highly entertaining show for the whole family under the direction (and choreography) of Cameron Hall and Executive Producer Polyanne Trapmore-Shaw - who co-wrote the show. The show's Vocal Director, Jesus Vidorreta, and Technical Producer Matt Oscroft make up the rest of the creative team.

We launch into the story of Princess Beauty who was cursed at birth by the evil Carabosse, played with real relish by Jennifer Harrighay. With a costume clearly inspired by Maleficent and was wholly appropriate for such a despicable, evil individual.

The key cast is led by Dereck Walker as the pantomime dame Queen Victoria Sponge. The kids adore as she mercilessly mocks a victim chosen from the audience, a teacher called Mr. Allison - or Matt - ("I'd love to wipe my feet on you Matt!" she declares). Matt was to become the butt of many gags from the Queen. Who informed us that her husband was so stupid he thought earwigs lived in your ears but lived in fear of cockroaches... Walker gives a strong performance singing and vamping throughout and is very much a crowd-pleaser.

The gorgeous Princess Beauty is played by Alice Field, a blonde beauty who sings like an angel and demonstrates a sense of rebellion just on the side of daring rather than defiance. She is cursed, and forbidden to leave the castle grounds until she reaches the age of 21. She likes to make occasional excursions beyond the walls to pick flowers and live a normal life. Her best friend is the curiously named Fairy Nuff, played by James Houlbrooke. Some of his gags are a little near the knuckle but stay on the side of humorous rather than dodgy and the knowing adults in the audience are able to laugh knowingly without having to answer for their amusement.

Whilst walking outside the grounds gathering flowers, Beauty meets the dashing Prince Phillip played by Finlay McKillop. With warm Scottish brogue and a good singing voice, the two duet and he falls madly for the Princess. Musical numbers are all enhanced by the addition of dancers to lend glamour through Alisha Browne and Morgan Parker, and the Slumberland Dancers Daisy Howard-Gettings, Darci Gowling, Macauley Howitt, Millie Osborne, and Mark Storan.

The jokes run thick and fast throughout the panto as do the musical numbers. the plot rattles along at a rapid pace as the threat of leaving the castle and the impending curse receive more mentions than perhaps it merits. Nevertheless, the audience is made well aware of what is to come. Queen Victoria Sponge whips them into a froth of anticipation and Fairy Nuff follows suit to set the scene and keep things light. The audience was howling with delight throughout the show and clearly had a whale of a time at the Embassy Theatre.

The songs performed in this show are wonderful choices, a blend of familiar and lesser-known tunes that are chosen for their appropriate feel within the story's narrative. Alice Field's beautiful vocal is highlighted by her performance of the song Someone Like You (originally from the musical Jekyll and Hyde) - a plaintive cry for love that we know the dashing Prince can and will provide eventually. A real contrast with Carabosse's take on Rhythm Is Gonna Get You or as she sings Evil is Gonna Get You! the songs come thick and fast. I enjoyed the trio of Beauty, Nuff and the Queen performing The Prom's Tonight Belongs to You. I believe that the audience, especially the children, love the glamour of the songs with the dancers and the glorious costumes. The more over-the-top the better at this stage. Its hard to socially distance and create a spectacle but Magna Vitae has sought to do just that. They must be commended for doing so.

Its easy to knock pantomime as an art form but it is exactly that, an art. This is an enjoyable romp. It does precisely what it sets out to do. It tells a fairytale story for a modern audience and in doing so, creates a magical world that keeps fantasy alive in the eyes of a child. Creating a panto is far from easy, I should know - I have written three to date and I am still learning what it takes to make the show what the audience expects and deserves. Panto is often the first chance a child has to experience live theatre and from there, a lifelong love affair can begin. We should not forget that and should embrace the magic of pantomime. Who knows who will be in the audience and what they will go on to achieve, after all Cameron Mackintosh first visited the theatre as a child watching Salad Days and went on to become the greatest producer of musical theatre of his generation.

So, to Magna Vitae Productions, I say congratulations on keeping this staple of the festive season alive and allowing a new generation of theatre goers to enjoy a silly, brash and yet well-crafted, traditional pantomime. Thank you for allowing me to review if rom the video recording. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next year and to being back in the room where it happens!

Andy Evans 07 January 2022

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