After 10 years at the helm of the St Albans panto, writer Paul Hendy knows what he’s doing. His production of Sleeping Beauty may not be the most innovative panto this season, but it ticks all the necessary boxes.
It is a welcome surprise to discover that Brexit is not the butt of all jokes, with allusions to Jacob Rees-Mogg and “naughty” MPs being the closest we get to the political hot potato.
Instead, the focus is on Hendy’s clever scripting, which results in a “vegetable pun-off” between Nurse Nellie (St Albans panto regular Bob Golding, who also directs), the King (Ian Kirkby) and Jangles (Andy Day), with references to Bake Off (“Mel-on Sue”) and Gloria Gaynor lyrics (“I am what I yam”).
A bathroom piping disaster starts to resemble Fawlty Towers – the King is drenched with water from the mouth of a mounted moose head, and Nurse Nellie levitates above a leaking toilet. Their performances are great fun.
EastEnders’ Rita Simons is a convincing Carabosse, with traces of the gobby Roxy Mitchell, but as the prince, Phillip Ryan could do with turning up the charm. Jemma Carlisle’s voice impresses and it’s nice to see a progressive twist, with the princess, rather than the prince, slaying the fire-breathing dragon (enhanced by a smoke machine).
There are a number of big-hitting songs, everything from Madness’ Baggy Trousers to Seasons of Love, which are tightly choreographed, contributing to the slick and professional feel of the production.
Helga Wood’s costumes are dazzling without going overboard on the glitter – look out for Nurse Nellie’s Madonna-esque conical bra.