This year marks a new era for the York Theatre Royal panto. Well, sort of. Beloved, long-running dame Berwick Kaler may have bowed out last year, but he’s still there behind the scenes, writing and co-directing this year’s offering. Much about the recipe – including the other stars who come back year after year – remains the same. Yet there’s some ineffable ingredient missing.
This meandering rendition of Sleeping Beauty has much of what regulars have come to expect: slapstick, chaos, knowing winks and an inexplicable video segment filmed around the city. Lots of the gags, though, fall strangely flat. Martin Barrass’ slop scene is lacklustre, plodding dutifully through the obligatory buckets of water and custard pies. This is during a trip to a faked French Riviera that forms a downright bizarre tangent – and not in the loveably bonkers way that we’re used to Kaler’s plots going off-piste.
The show’s saving grace is David Leonard, who dishes up another exemplary bit of villainy as wicked, body-swapping (don’t ask) fairy Evil Diva. His scenes are a hammy joy as always, with the added bonus this year of AJ Powell as a reluctant sidekick. And there are still some wonderful little touches elsewhere, like Suzy Cooper’s Sleeping Beauty inelegantly slumped on her bed of flowers, gleefully rejecting the prettified Disney stereotype.
But between the low energy slapstick and half-baked political jokes – including the setting of “Brexitania” – this panto struggles to match up to the joyous template established in previous years by Kaler and co.