16 December 2023
I start by apologising that I have limited information about this production which I was invited to review. There was no programme and the online information is limited. At least a seat had been reserved for me – ah, no it hadn’t – to be fair, the box office staff at the Corn Exchange in Exeter were enormously helpful. But nothing boded well. The production is credited to Kickline Theatre- so I am guessing they take some responsibility.
There are many secrets to making a good pantomime, you can have the lavish sets and costumes, bucket loads of enthusiasm and super singing and dancing, but…. and it is a huge ‘but’, if your script isn’t up to it, you have problems.
I am sorry to have to start with a negative, but the script of this production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is dire. I cannot find anyone acknowledging responsibility – probably just as well. When a writer has to rely on a plethora of farting gags throughout, then you realise that they have an idea vacuum and when the Fairy has to use the phrase ‘touching cloth’ then we are plumbing the depths. Each fart gag is met with virtual silence from the audience; my thoughts are with the poor actors having to deliver this execrable script. Quite simply it is not funny and barely entertaining.
The show also suffers from being way, way too long – a first scene lasting half an hour gives you an idea – it appears to be undirected as mostly everyone stands still and when the Queen enters she is stuck behind a pile of presents and largely hidden – who is the director? No sign of responsibility anywhere.
Alright, this is a first performance, but the company does bill itself as ‘outstanding professional theatre’ – they should hang their heads in shame.
Despite all this, the cast work manfully to make something of the show. There is enthusiasm by the bucket load and the singing and choreography is very good indeed – Rachel Modest, the Queen, made quite an impact on ‘The Voice’ and she uses hers to great effect. All the dancing is done with panache and great ability, including by the younger chorus, but again no choreographer is mentioned for me to praise in person.
Katie Hallett is an effective Princess Aurora and sings well and Will Trafford as the silly billy ‘Buzzy’ has some great comic ability, but his channelling of Joe Pasquale renders many of his vocals inaudible and he ends up being rather irritating. Keeley Cooper has to deliver some of the worst lines in the show, but must try and avoid just delivering to the first six rows. Matt Finegan as Carabosse is patently very experienced at playing to an audience, but even he must have felt he was hitting his head against a wall – he is very talented and worthy of better material. For some reason, there is a character called Wizard Porco – a human/pig cross breed – a device to deliver multiple porcine gags – James Trafford does as good a job as he can. Katie Jones also works so hard to get the laughs as Dotty, Carabosse’s Mother and Archie Benham is able to showcase his multitude of talents as the Prince – he can sing, dance and act very well.
The sets are nice enough and the lighting is decent, though at times there is acting in semi-darkness. There are a few sound issues, not least with underscoring drowning out dialogue, but these should be ironed out.
Yes, audiences will shout out when asked to and will boo when provoked and applaud when it is deserved, but when the Fairy enters to virtual silence and the end of the first act receives only a smattering of applause, there is more work to be done.
I can only hope that whoever is in charge of the production finds a way of reducing the nearly 2 hour 40 minute running time – which is about 40 minutes too long – this pantomime needs a director to tighten it up and engender some vigour into it. At present it is in a very poor state.
Katie Hallet – Princess Aurora
Rachel Modest – The Queen
Will Trafford – Buzzy
Matt Finegan – Carabosse
Keeley Cooper – Fairy Fluff
James Trafford – Wizard Porco
Dotty – Katie Jones
Prince Clooney – Archie Benham
A KICKLINE THEATRE PRODUCTION