Its pantomime season once again, which can only mean one thing – fabulous family entertainment for the festive season at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre.
The last decade has seen The Riverfront’s annual pantomime grow into an essential event in the Christmas calendar with colourful sets and costumes, laughs, song and dance routines, all high on the programme’s agenda.
Richard Gauntlett’s reimagination of Sleeping Beauty is no exception, featuring an ensemble of colourful characters, a dragon, dancing skeletons and a tenacious lawnmower with a life of its own!
The story surrounds events at Newport Abbey where The Evil Dowager Aunt Draig is on a quest to find the missing Princess before she reaches her 18th birthday. On hand are Lord Griffin, his son the right honourable Dylan, Mrs Midges the Housekeeper, Muddles the Gardener and Chortwood the Butler, who come to the Princess’ rescue.
The fun kicks off in great form with a roaring twenties style encompassing Charleston influenced choreography. The imagery crosses with the 1980s music scene via a medley of Madness’ hits sung ably by Jack Ayres as romantic lead Dylan along with ensemble singers. Among the songs performed are It Must Be Love, Our House and Driving in My Car (in which the ensemble cast create a classic jalopy from carefully assembled package cases!)
Richard Elis makes a welcome return to lead the panto shenanigans as Muddles The Gardener ably assisted by Liam Tobin’s dame Mrs Midges. While Elis encourages the audience to yell “Tidy”, make co-stars corpse and regularly do battle with a lawnmower, Tobin dazzles with a variety of costumes including a fun song and dance routine featuring the ensemble children, How Are You?
Lowri-Ann Richards is every inch the baddie as Aunt Draig and seems to have no problems working the audience into a booing frenzy. Richard Nichols is the eccentric hero as the time-travelling butler Chortwood (that’s an anagram for a popular fictional TV character by the way!).
There’s a wonderful homage to Doctor Who in the second half with Nichols, Elis, Tobin and Ayres donning costumes associated with various incarnations of the TV time traveller (including Tobin’s affectionate tribute to current Time-Lord, Jodie Whittaker).
Michael Geary adds further visual laughs in his role as Lord Griffin and works well with Elis, Tobin and Nichols as a group of mischievous monks who transform a monotonous bell ringing routine with ropes into a jazz-inspired maypole dance.
Alice Rose Fletcher is servant, Patience who is on a journey to find her true identity as a princess. Miss Fletcher steals several scenes with vocal performances including A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman and I Could Be Happy with You (a duet with Jack Ayres).
The plot of Sleeping Beauty itself moves along quickly and there’s much to keep the audience entertained from magical dance routines (particularly the skeletons) on-stage battles (look out for the dragon towards the climax!) and genuine belly laughs!
Like the on-stage cast and ensemble, Newport’s audience were having a ball from start to finish. and the laughter continued to echo as my family left the building after the performance. A great introduction to the theatre for children while genuine entertainment for anybody else looking for a reprieve from a world dominated by reality TV shows and computer games. You can’t go far wrong by getting out and attending this live theatre treat!
Sleeping Beauty continues at Newport Riverfront until January 6, 2019.
Photographs by Kirsten McTernan