Panto spectacle proves a beautyOpera Entertainment
By Richard Gill
Her Majesty’s Theatre, until January 19
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
Victorian Opera’s summer panto looks set to become an annual tradition. Richard Gill (who also created last year’s Cinderella) has written and composed a musical version of Sleeping Beauty that had scores of young girls at the opening dressed up as fairies and princesses.
Their effort did not go unrewarded. In Gill’s hands, the fairytale leaps onto the stage with more than a nostalgic glance to the distinctively Australian tradition of music hall. There are quite a few fun patter-songs, sing-alongs and ridiculous rhymes.
On the other hand its many attractive arias make Sleeping Beauty a great introduction to opera for younger audiences. Three duets stood out: one between the King (James Payne) and Queen (Olivia Cranwell) before the princess’s birth, another over the cursed spinning wheel, and a third when the Prince (Daniel Todd) and newly awakened Princess Aurora (Lotte Betts-Dean) are finally united.
Framing the story are the acrobatic Darcy the Jester (Jonathan Bode) and the muddle-minded fairy Ticketty-Boo (Suzanne Johnston), along with an all-singing, all-dancing quartet called the Jollies (Jack Feehan, Mark Morabito, Camille Wai and Laura O’Sullivan). These pantomime sequences are skilfully directed and choreographed by Derek Taylor, and performed with crisp, exaggerated movement and comic flair.
A troupe of young ballet dancers led by Bianca Weller brings magic to the fairies’ gift scene.
Dimity Shepherd’s evil fairy is less compelling, both in performance and in the role as written. A pantomime villain, after all, is traditionally one of the most important parts. Fleshing it out with a relationship to Ticketty-Boo might help: it would be less alarming to the kids (and require fewer blunt warnings not to be frightened) if she didn’t appear so loudly and vanish so quickly.
Shepherd makes up for it in song, later, and the fine singing, good-spirited performances, fairytale costumes and elaborate set make for a vibrant spectacle that keeps the kids entertained.