Pros: Traditional panto with some original finds and just enough self-awareness.
Cons: The over the top goes a bit over the top at times. Some subtlety every now and again wouldn’t go amiss.
Twisted Dame’s Sleeping Beauty is playing at one of those traditional pub-downstairs, theatre-upstairs combinations: the cosy Hen and Chickens Theatre Bar in Islington.
Princess Beauty has just turned twenty-one, and has made her party very memorable indeed by accidently insulting the public live on national TV. In order to boost royal approval ratings, her father decides to organise a reality TV show in which knights compete for Beauty’s hand in marriage. Meanwhile royal advisor Dirk Bastard is after the throne, serving boy Trevor is hopelessly in love, and the TV presenters covering the event have got some issues of their own to deal with.
As someone who has recently moved to the UK, there are a few theatre events that I would class as very British. One of those would be seeing Shakespeare at the Globe. Another is pantomime at a pub theatre. As it happens, Lyn Gardner recently talked about whether or not pantomime is losing its traditions on the Guardian’s theatre blog. That question is certainly not applicable to this show, which has all the elements you’d expect in a panto. There’s cross-dressing, singing and dancing, and plenty of chances to boo and hiss your heart out. No double entendre here though, because this truly is an adult pantomime, and even the slightest pretense at subtlety has been discarded. Between Sir Thrustalot’s overly graphic pick-up lines and Mrs Hugebuns showering the audience with condoms, there’s scarcely any time to get your mind out of the gutter.
One of the characteristics (and major difficulties) of good farce is that the writers and performers know how to strike a balance. Of course there has to be way over the top ham-acting and very bad jokes, but in a ‘so bad that it’s good’ kind of way. And herein lies the risk, because you have to know when to stop. When good-bad turns into bad-bad, so to speak. I’d say that Sleeping Beauty gets it right about four out of five times, which is an admirable achievement. Some of the jokes get recycled once or twice too often, but there’s enough self-awareness to make up for that.
The acting is done with the right mix of enthusiasm and shamelessness needed to pull of the ridiculous characters. A mid-show prop malfunction is integrated almost seamlessly and the actors respond well to some unasked audience participation. And while it’s hardly ground-breaking, the show does provide a few original and unexpected moments. I did not count on seeing some hot pirate-on-president action between Jack Sparrow and Abe Lincoln for example. Especially not with two French people beating up someone with baguettes in the background. Overall, a great show for everyone who’s been naughty but nice this year.
Author: Daniel Calder and Rees Nicholls
Director: James Bennison
Box Office: 020 7354 8246
Booking Link: !current-production/cb3i
Booking Until: 21st December 2014