There are several references to familiar children’s characters in Joyce Branagh’s production of Sleeping Beauty. Hayley Russell’s Belladonna Bile channels Maleficent with her cut-glass accent and distinctive headdress while Nanny Fanny (Robin Simpson) seems to float down from above like a Technicolor Mary Poppins.
But as the production progresses, it’s clear that Andrew Pollard’s script was written with adults in mind. Risqué jokes abound, Yorkshire stereotypes are ridiculed and there’s even a well-directed Dirty Dancing spoof – “Nobody puts Nanny in the corner.”
Although Simpson, Esther Grace-Button (as Fairy Falalala) and Nicola Jayne Ingram (as Hester the Jester) are all engaging performers, their early scenes of audience interaction mean the story takes a while to get going. The pacing recovers when Alyce Liburd’s Princess Aurora arrives – a glorious party medley for her 18th birthday is a highlight of the show.
Liburd carries the audience along with her wide-eyed charm while Russell invokes fear as the sultry villainess. As a result, there’s a real sense of jeopardy when Aurora pricks her finger. As she falls asleep for a hundred years, a clever effect from lighting designer Chris Brearley gives the appearance of green vines spreading across Mark Walters’ glitter-suffused set.
The creative surprises continue into the faster, slicker second half with the advent of an awe-inspiring dragon. Russell is also given more scope to shine in powerfully performed solos.
It’s a shame that this Yorkshire version of Sleeping Beauty takes a while to find its stride: with a little more narrative oomph, it would be brilliant.