Thursday, 19 December 2013



Theatre Run: Saturday 7 December 2013 - Saturday 18 January 2014
Performance Viewed: Wednesday 11 December

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

As engrained in our festive consciousness as mince pies, Turkey and something truly miserable happening over in Albert Square on Eastenders, pantomime season once again rolls around in premiere style here in the Midlands as the Wolverhampton Grand plays host to Joe Pasquale and friends in Sleeping Beauty this Christmas and New Year. 

Pantomimes are almost a law unto themselves, a thoroughly British and individual genre of theatre that can’t really be judged by the same criteria and expectations as conventional shows, even comedies. Thankfully though, within this pantomime pocket Sleeping Beauty proves itself to be a wonderfully energised, thoroughly entertaining and frequently hilarious feel good festive romp for all ages, and offers precisely the kind of family friendly blend of humour, songs and spectacle you’d hope for.

It’s a show dotted with fun, engaging and suitably ludicrous characters, and peppered with plenty of musical numbers, set pieces and a hearty surplus of glitz and glamour to keep the energy levels and audience entertainment at a high throughout. It is also quite admirably self-contained for a pantomime, with only a few casual throwaway pop culture and external references, most drawing its comedy from the innate charm and absurdity of the characters and the comedic stylings of Mr Pasquale.

As a long-term fan, having been privy to his very earliest high profile tours in the mid 90’s, Pasquale’s influence can be felt throughout, his character Muddles being somewhat more prominent than the role typically is in other panto’s, arguably becoming the shows lead in place of Lucy Evan’s Princess Beauty. There are visual gags, audience interaction and one liners lifted straight from his previous stand up runs, but it is all so inspiredly loony that it somehow meshes to form a wonderfully bonkers and brilliantly zany approach to the show as a whole, and if there’s anywhere that Pasquale’s hilariously oddball hijinks fit perfectly, it’s here, with children and adults alike getting a lot of mileage from the vast majority of his gags and performance.

Pasquale’s tomfoolery is met with the fabulous (sorry, ‘faaaaaaabulous’) stylings of Ceri Dupree, one of the nation’s most celebrated female impersonators, who takes on the role of Beauty’s mother, Queen Passionella, with more wonderfully inventive and dazzlingly outrageous costume changes than Lady Gaga (who is, naturally, rolled out on stage at one point to hilariously sing about her ‘botox face’ a la Pokerface). Dupree is certainly one of the shows highlights throughout, the consummate pantomime dame, albeit replacing the dour and dowdy with the aforementioned glitz, glamour and a surprisingly sincere maternal warmth. Responsible for many of the big musical numbers, some of which could have arguably been lifted straight from Priscilla, by the time Dupree takes to the stage as Tina Turner, belting out ‘Simply the Best‘ and mimicking Turner’s signature dance moves with startling accuracy, it’s anyone’s call as to whether Dupree or Pasquale has done the greater job of stealing the show. 

The rest of the cast are also clearly enjoying themselves - Evans isn’t given a great deal to do as the titular Princess, but is suitably endearing and flighty when she is on stage, and Oliver Watton makes a suitably handsome young Prince, and is gamely the butt of many of Pasquale’s jokes at his expense. The characters are, expectedly, paper thin, but that is more a necessity and trope of the pantomime mould itself as opposed to any particular shortcoming in this production; the kids will no doubt lap up the entry level romance and likeable Prince and Princess archetypes. Wendy Somerville is wonderfully over the top and booming as chief villainess, the dark fairy Carabosse, presenting again a wonderfully typical boo-hiss pantomime baddy it’s fun to get behind going against. The beautiful Robyn Mellor is one of the real standouts of the cast as Carabosse’s counterpart, the Enchantress, with the character and Mellor clearly channeling Glinda the Good of Wicked fame. Mellor is a treat throughout, and gets to close Act I with a knockout rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’ (as Pasquale, naturally, takes to a flying motorbike) that demonstrates how she could quite comfortably make the transition to that particular show itself given the flashes of West End-worthiness she shows off throughout.

In all, Sleeping Beauty ticks off all the general pantomime pre-requisites, but imbues them with a real energy and invention - Muddles is more overtly whacky and zany thanks to inheriting some of Pasquale’s routines and ideas, Dupree’s Passionella genuinely makes equivalent dames look downright uninspired and basic, and there’s a surprisingly strong musical undertone that runs throughout. 

Big, bold, laugh-out-loud funny, and of course, not forgetting simply faaaaabulous, with some terrific leading talent that genuinely feel as though they have helped mould and shape the show as opposed to simply being shoehorned in, Sleeping Beauty affirms the Wolverhampton Grand as the go-to venue for your annual slice of pantomime farce and hilarity, and should be your one-stop port of call for family-friendly fun and frivolity this Christmas and New Year.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)

SLEEPING BEAUTY is running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Saturday 7 December 2013 to Saturday 18th January 2014.
CLICK HERE for more information on the shows run at the Grand and to book your tickets!
Alternatively phone the Box Office directly on 01902 42 92 12.

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Press tickets for this performance of Sleeping Beauty were provided courtesy of Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

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