Sleeping Beauty

Date 17th February 2018
Society Urmston Musical Theatre
Venue Urmston Leisure Centre
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Ian Darke
Musical Director Neil Ravenscroft
Choreographer Lorraine Callan


Author: Richard Ross (on behalf of Kevin Proctor)

Mere weeks before the leisure centre closes its doors for refurbishment Urmston Musical Theatre once again transforms the sports hall into a fairytale land for their production of 'Sleeping Beauty'.

Pantomime is a form of theatre that carries a huge amount of tradition and expectation - interestingly the version of Sleeping Beauty presented here offered a number of obstacles in the script that got in the way of those traditions.

I was impressed with the way the script dealt with certain aspects of the story, for example the complication regarding the ‘fairy magic’ and why Fairy Dotty was the only one able to fight the curse was efficiently communicated and provided an engaging character arc. It found ways around the fact that most of the cast could possibly end up asleep once Aurora fell foul of the curse. It also provided a decent dynamic between the good fairies and Grimhilde and her Raven Children. Mia Robertson and Barney Casson both showed great promise in their roles and it would be nice to see them develop further performances in the future. Helen Halfpenny as the story’s baddie certainly appeared to be enjoying her role and brought plenty of energy to it, she took the lion’s share of audience interaction with aplomb.

Which brings me to my first major niggle, that the script could have been improved by including a role that was a strong connection with the audience, an opportunity missed with the character of Arfur Storey - we were crying out for a ‘hiya kids!’. As there was no dame in the script it fell upon Arfur and Dotty’s shoulders to be that connection which the script didn’t really allow them to do. Both Ben Thomas and Michelle Speakman gave engaging performances - I would like to have seen a bit more bounce from Ben but they both complemented each other well with Arfur’s cheery optimism played against Dotty’s try hard attitude. There was plenty for an audience to get behind here which the script didn’t seem to make room for.

It also would have helped for the script to have a bit more of the Prince and Princess. What we were given allowed the Prince, Alex Severn, to do little more than fancy the Princess and serve as the tool for the fairies. That’s why when the prince slapped ‘his’ thigh there was little response from the audience at the performance I saw. Aurora played by Isabelle Mead had a little bit more development with her bucket list and feisty independence but was still not on stage enough for the audience to really connect with. It is a shame because again both actresses delivered noble performances, Alex’s through command and confidence and Isabelle’s through sweetness with a touch a rebellion. The two sang very well together.

In general the music complemented the production, with decent accompaniment from the band that was balanced well with the volume of the voices. The song choices felt a little 'music hall’ in places (although The King’s New Clothes was one of my favourite moments), and perhaps a foray into something contemporary and upbeat for the finale would not have been amiss as 'Roll Over Beethoven' felt a little shoehorned in and didn’t particularly add anything to overall story.

The set itself served its purpose, the highlight being Grimhilde’s grotto which felt truly immersive with the surround of foliage and the glowing orb - it felt like an exciting and believable place. I would have liked to have seen it used more and I would liked to have seen the same level of design applied to the rest of the set which, given the fact that it was fairly static, could have had more dressing and attention to detail. The bedroom being high up was slightly distanced from the audience but it certainly put 'the kiss' centre of the picture. The set worked really well in the daily village life scenes (the ‘Aurora growing up sequence’ for example) when the throng of chorus and characters brought it to life.

Overall, despite niggles, the production was delivered with enthusiasm and joy which made watching it a pleasurable experience. My daughter and I would like to thank Pam and the society for the warm reception we received and I hope that whatever improvements are made to the venue will work in UMT’s favour and they continue to entertain us long into the future.