Sleeping Beauty: a reassuringly old-fashioned pantomime
There is pedigree to the Marlowe Theatre’s pantomime: boyband star Duncan James and Aussie songstress Natalie Imbruglia are among those to have previously graced its sleek, wood-panelled stage. This year, the Canterbury stalwart welcomes TV presenter and former Strictly Come Dancing champion Ore Oduba and West End star Carrie Hope Fletcher for a show that shamelessly celebrates the full-blown camp fantasy of pantomime, avoiding any of the progressive twists seen in many similar shows these days.
The aesthetics of the show seem to have been unchanged since 1980s. Cartoony sets of the turreted palace or attic bedroom stacked high with skulls and cobwebs are lit in saccharine pinks, oranges and bright yellows by designer Jack Weir. Costumes, too, are knowingly cheap and cheerful: the silky medieval gowns and glittery guard uniforms could have been taken straight out of The Princess Bride.
A blend of synths, funky electric guitar and melodramatic sound effects from Phil Wilson build a quirky, Super Mario-esque soundscape. Songs including Eurythmics’s Sweet Dreams and The Monkees’ I’m a Believer are thrown in for singalong brownie points.
The show breaks from economical pantomime tradition in its use of special effects: everything from giant velociraptor puppets to flaming sword spinners grace the stage. Hundreds of giggling children in the audience are a testament to their success.
Fletcher is excellent in her pantomime debut as the evil fairy Carrie-bosse, evidently enjoying herself as she confidently cackles about the stage. Ben Roddy is also a brilliantly flirtatious dame, Old Nelly, ever with a gag on hand to smooth over any technical hitch that arose during the press preview.
The 37-year-old Oduba, however, makes for a rather old Prince Michael, and both he and Princess Aurora (Ellie Kingdon) disappear into the background when surrounded by such forceful supporting actors. A stronger central couple would help project the warm, beating heart that this show deserves, and prevent things from fading somewhat towards the end.
The real charm of this panto, though, is its comedy. Ventriloquist Max Fulham, as the fool Jangles, adds a slightly off-the-wall angle that probably doesn't feature in many other pantos this season. More predictably, Paul Hendy’s script is chock-a-block with puns: they can be a little cringeworthy at first, but you warm to them as you become accustomed to the show’s universe.
It all contributes to another slickly produced and comforting Marlowe Theatre panto. It might not go anywhere unusual or unexpected, but perhaps that's desirable after two pandemic-disrupted Christmas seasons.
Until Jan 8. Tickets: 01227 787787; marlowetheatre.com