You may remember Sleeping Trees from last year’s joyous Zoom panto Moby Dick Whittington, which we gave a four star review. Well, they have only gone and done it again, but live on stage this time! Sleeping Beauty and the Beast is a feelgood funfest with pots of participation, cheery tunes, crunchy cornflakes, but mostly, utter madness. It’s brilliant!
At their annual slumber party, the gang have put together a crack team to create the best panto ever. They know all the elements required: now all they need is James’s script. But it’s gone missing so they have to improvise instead! That’s when they find themselves at Goodieversity, the educational establishment that “helps villains and baddies find a path to goodness”. They are looking forward to a 100% success rate at the GOODuation ceremony, until the Ofsted inspector (played chillingly by Juliana Lisk) arrives and threatens to close them down because one student disappeared before graduating. It gets worse: Santa becomes trapped in Dreamland and Christmas is at risk! A perilous adventure ensues to solve the mystery and save the day.
This is a fantastic ensemble who work with impressive comic timing and confidence. The madcap cast play multiple characters throughout, some from fairytales, others completely invented. They’re slick, they’re zany, and they’re turned up to 11 on the energy dial! James Dunnell-Smith is particularly funny as the supercilious playwright turned princess detective, whilst Jamal Franklin had me in stitches in his beautiful Belle dress, crushing the patriarchy.
It’s the attention to detail in the show that is particularly impressive. One of the jokes is that it’s taken James two years to write the script (before losing it) and I could well believe that to be the case, because it is so carefully crafted. Nothing is throwaway; from John Woodburn’s intermittent sliding, to the crazy Cornflake Colin (crisply played by Joshua George Smith), everything adds a laugh or a point to the intricate plot.
With countless opportunities for audience participation and great singalongs, the audience happily raise the roof. Along with the upbeat songs and lively music from Ben Hales, the incidental soundtrack is splendidly selected, combining musical theatre, panto and TV detective shows altogether into the mash-up.
The costumes are loud, colourful and totally silly to match the crazy characters. I was especially impressed by the flying lobster, which I haven’t seen before in any panto*. The whole thing is wrapped up in starlight and bubbles in Emily Bestow’s fabulous and imaginative set design.
Forget all your troubles this Christmas! Put your dancing boots on and get down to the Battersea Arts Centre. It’s a relaxed venue so everyone can feel comfortable there. Take the kids, take the grandparents – even take grumpy Aunt Edna, because at the very inclusive Sleeping Trees panto even villains get a second chance to be good.
* Editor note: the lobster has in fact appeared as far back as 2016, our first mention of it was here.
Written by: Ben Hales, James Dunnell-Smith, John Woodburn, Joshua George Smith
Directed by: Kerry Frampton
Produced by: Alice Carter
Music Composed/ Sound Design by: Ben Hales
Lead Designer (set and costume) Emily Bestow
Lighting Design by: Rachel E Cleary
Sleeping Beauty and the Beast plays at Battersea Arts Centre until 30 December, with performance times ranging from 10.15am to 7pm. For further details on the show and start times, plus booking, check BAC’s website via the below link.
The Sleeping Trees has also produced an online Christmas show, The Space Explorer (Puss in Moon Boots), which you can purchase for just £5 to watch online via the below link.