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Sleeping Beauty

Date

2nd December 2017

Society

Musical Theatre Group - Plymouth University

Venue

Plymouth University

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Sam Pomeroy

Musical Director

Thomas Dunn

Choreographer

Jessica Emmett

Report

Author: Gareth Davies

I love pantomime and this was my second panto of the festive season! The Main Hall at the university was warmly inviting for an evening of fun and silliness in traditional style and the audience were clearly excited and expectant from before curtain up.

Director and writer Sam Pomeroy clearly understands, respects and revels in the panto genre – his script was traditional with lots of the expected business and some local, modern references thrown into the mix which the audience really enjoyed. The on-going quips at the expense of Marjons, for instance, and the obligatory derogatory remarks about Plymouth Argyle! Jessica Emmett’s choreography was fun, full of energy and appropriately camped up by the cast. All of the danced numbers were tightly drilled and the space was used very effectively, meaning all of the cast were featured at different times.

Musical Director, Thomas Dunn, conducted a small but good band, which handled the range of music and songs well – generally maintaining a fine balance between singers and pit. This was clearly a well-rehearsed band and musical cues were picked up at a good pace.

An excellent set designed and constructed by the ever-brilliant Andy Martin was simple but effective, cleverly creating a range of scenes and moods, from the town square to the palace and the wicked witch’s lair. The piece de resistance for me was the dragon, which was actually very effective and dramatic. Andy Martin knows how to work his magic! I also loved the moments when members of the ensemble (dressed as deer) helped to change the scenery – truly in the spirit of panto.

Among a strong cast of principals, Sleeping Beauty herself was played by Amy Rossiter. This role really suited her and she brought a lovely combination of romance and fun to the production from the opening number. She has a sweet, pure voice, which was ideal for Beauty.

Opposite Beauty was the dashing Prince, expertly played by Sam Spears. In this role he excelled, stealing scenes when he was on stage and truly grasping the insincerity of the fairy tale hero, much as he did in ‘Into the Woods’ too. Spears is a good actor, he can move and he has a lyrical baritone voice with which to woo his princess and the audience!

Kat Djemai, Ricky Morgan and Charlotte Hammond played the horribly villainous Carabosse and her sidekicks Bojo and Maybot. This was a fun trio of villains, with Djemai adeptly stepping into the world of panto witch and she held the audience in the palm of her hand whenever she made her obligatory stage left entrances. Bojo and Maybot were lots of fun in parodies of our esteemed Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister – I enjoyed these performances. Balancing the villainy and guiding Beauty through her challenges is, of course, 'The Enchantress' and this role was played by Katy Woodward with warmth and style.

Of course, panto is all about the comedy and in the principal comedy roles were Tim McNeil as Nurse Nelly and Jake Greene as her son, the court jester Muddles. Both of these performances were great fun, with Muddles especially entertaining from his first entrance and his rapport with the audience was spot on. Greene evidently relished the silly comedy and physicality of this role! As the dame, Tim McNeil took a while to warm up and relax into the performance, but playing a dame is a unique art and it is no coincidence that the great dames in panto legend are generally older men. Once he relaxed, Nurse Nelly was funny, risqué and appropriately self-aware leading to a growing rapport with the audience.

In the supporting roles of the Queens and Lord Chamberlain were Sarah Engle, Jemma Smith and George Back. All were strong and confident, bringing the requisite gravitas to monarchy and courtiers in panto land. The Lord Chamberlain certainly knew how to control the court with a powerful, well-projected voice. It was also lovely to hear an American performer in such a traditionally British genre.

The ensemble were excellent – fully committed to the production and clearly having a great time on stage. I always believe that if the cast are having fun, so will the audience. My only minor quibble regards some of the ensemble costumes, which could have been more than just shirt or t-shirt and trousers at times – although we all understand the restrictions of budgets and wardrobe. Well done to the wardrobe team, however – most of the costumes, especially for the principals, were excellent. Especially for Carabosse – villains always get the best costumes!

To summarise, this was a very enjoyable night at the theatre and it is exciting to see students exploring pantomime. Panto is an art form in its own right and it deserves to be respected by performers and audiences alike. I hope MTG will return to the world of panto again in the future and I look forward to seeing your next production in 2018.