The tale of Sleeping Beauty, when performed as a pantomime, is a fairly fluid affair. Character names can be changed as it suits each producer and even some of the settings can be altered if it helps – but even with all of that fluidity, Hastings still manages to throw in a couple of extra “curveballs”.
The first concerns the casting of Honey G, in her pantomime debut, as Fairy G. Her time on the X Factor proved her to be very much the “Marmite” of the rapping world with the TV audience equally divided between those who love her and those who just don’t get what she is all about. Luckily the Hastings audience are very welcoming and are soon joining in with the cleverly reworded chorus of “I say Fairy, You say G”.
The second curveball concerns our heroine, who in this production is simply known as Beauty, and her choice of best friend. Is it a hapless villager? No, although she shares a house with this character, he doesn’t even make it into the “Friend Zone”. A kindly Aunt? No, in this production her Aunt is the evil Queen. Here, her best friend is, of course, Polo the Penguin!
Samuel Constanti performs as Polo in a seriously cute penguin costume which he animates with a curiously addictive charm to the point that, even though the penguin is not necessarily the first character that one might think of featuring in this tale, he fits in perfectly and the audience really love him.
The show begins with Fairy G performing the whole of Sleeping Beauty’s back story as a rap which, sadly, means that most of the detail is inaudible above the thumping bass beat. Queen Carabosse, in a gender swapping casting choice that is a stroke of pure theatrical genius, is played by David McKechnie. He joins in the rap battle and starts working the audience for the usual “boos” and “hisses” associated with a panto baddie.
Tim McArthur, as Dame Maris Piper with Ben Watson as her son, Brian Piper, walk through act one as if it is a lesson called “Pantomime by Numbers”. The jokes are tame to the point of being stale, the “messy” scene falls sadly flat and even the musical numbers which feature the full ensemble are predictable cheesy pop tunes with adequate but not challenging dance routines to accompany them.
The songs are, in the main, performed by Beauty, played by Jodie Steele, as the unlikely named Prince Istuna (yes, Prince’s Tuna) of Bexhill (Chris Kiely), her love interest. Both have suitably powerful voices but, once again, there is very little to wow the audience.
Thankfully, after Honey G takes a few minutes out at the start of act two to sing her most famous song, things start to improve quite rapidly. The male dancers, Damon Gould, Andrew Ashton, Benjamin Cameron and Samuel Constanti get to show off their amazing physiques, and much better choreography, when they appear as Carabosse’s half naked slaves. Beauty and Carabosse take each other on in a really well thought out slow-motion boxing match and the traditional “he’s behind you” skeleton scene takes a very spooky turn as it uses the entire auditorium.
Ben Watson gets most of the children, and a worrying number of adults, to join in with his crazy March of the Penguins song which leads very neatly into the Wedding Scene and a mega-mix finale, both of which work well.
Overall Sleeping Beauty is an entertaining show but, with so many other choices of festive entertainment around, the White Rock Theatre team need to work on a real “wow factor”, if their 2018 production of Jack and the Beanstalk is to be a memorable one.
*** Three Stars