At this time of year, the prospect of sleeping for 100 years can be all too tempting when you’re a grown up – well, at least 100 days.
Avoiding the crowds of shoppers, freezing nights and dark days of winter really would be quite appealing.
But, you’d also miss the bright lights and glittering treat of pantomime, and Blackpool’s Grand Theatre really does bring the seasonal show to life.
This year it’s the girly tale of Sleeping Beauty – the Princess Rose is cursed by wicked fairy Carabosse, angry at not being invited to her Christening, that she shall prick her finger and die on her 18th birthday.
Luckily, the good fairy intervenes and heads off the spell, to leave the young princess sleeping for 100 years only to be woken by true love’s kiss.
And so we head off on a magical journey, willing the dashing prince on to save his fair maiden.
Heading up the cast is local lass Hayley Kay as Fairy Snowflake and Jennifer Ellison as Carabosse.
In rhyming couplets, time and time, this shining pair are pure pantomime...
Sorry, it had to be done!
Radio Wave’s breakfast host Hayley soars as a pretty-in-pink hit with the audience, while blonde ex-Brookside beauty Jennifer makes for a surprisingly good bad girl playing up the sizzling vamp side of her character for the dads in the house.
While it’s a shame her West End worthy voice and dance skills go very underused, it’s worth remembering she only became a mum for the third time in late September.
Much of my own love of theatre stems from family trips to the annual pantomime in my home town; golden memories of geese, glass slippers, girls dressed and boys, and a funnily-dressed, deep-voiced woman linger fondly still.
And I’ve kind of missed the magical pantomime season since ‘growing out’ of that trip to Pantoland, but Sleeping Beauty was more than enough to convince me you don’t need to be aged under 10 to have a lot of laughs at this time of year.
Steve Royle as Silly Billy leads the comedy with perfect timing and pitch for an audience packed with children, but adding enough to keep their parents and guardians happy too, seamlessly combining scripted gags and witty asides with ease.
The foil for much of his humour is Nick Wilton’s Nurse Nelly, a slightly under-done dame in this genre where no holds barred is the name of the game, although the men at arms scene, with the King (Michael Chance), was really well played out.
Young lovers Princess Rose – our Sleeping Beauty, and Prince Phillip were played convincingly by the quite adorable Phoebe Lewis and Lewis Bradley.
The young audience fell into silent awe as the prince flew through time and space, in a nice bit of projection trickery, to rescue his love, although the latter fight against the dragon seemed a bit quiet – I imagine slaying demon beasts would make you huff and puff somewhat.
As is traditional in Pantoland, there was a great mix of pop hits and more traditional songs, I doubt there’s a panto in the land not making use of Pharrell Williams’ chart-topper Happy this year, which it fitted in well here, and Silly Billy’s meet the kids section with All About The Bass was a lot of fun.
Director David Lloyd-Jones kept the show moving at a good pace, and although choreography by Katie Hill lacked some imagination at times, it was well performed by the cute youngsters and senior dancers from the Barbara Jackson Theatre Arts Centre.
The finale did fall a touch flat. With no clear indication the story had come to an end was over half the cast missed the applause due for their performances, and handfuls of glitter thrown by the principals as they came down the stairs lacked the opulence needed for a ‘royal wedding’ in the festive season.
And for a show steeped in magic, there was a lack of flash pots and other effects to help create the illusions, and more smoke and lighting effects could have helped disguise a couple of clunky scene changes on opening night – although the sets created some beautiful scenes in the Grand’s proscenium.
Some of these issues should settle down with regular performances, and hopefully the show will pick up some additional pace – at more than two hours, 45 minutes with an interval, even with a 7pm start some of the youngest children were tiring towards the end.
That said, there was a cheery buzz as the packed theatre emptied onto the chilly streets, leaving a suitably warm glow inside and setting families up for a fabulous festive season.
* Sleeping Beauty, Grand Theatre, Church Street, Blackpool, until Sunday, January 4. Call (01253) 290190 for times and tickets.