Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Director: Lisa May
Writer: Patrick J. O’Reilly
There’s something about an honest-to-goodness, traditional Christmas panto that remains hard to resist. When the evergreen fairytale of Sleeping Beautyis presented, more or less intact, with a few modern embellishments and an affordable price tag, it’s easy to see why the annual Waterfront Hall shout fest is such a popular staple in many family and schools calendars.
Director Lisa May and writer PJ O’Reilly are old hands at pulling crowds to this venue and have adhered to the tried and tested formula of giving audiences what they like and know. Unusually, the storyline has been built not around the saccharine sweetness of Princess Beauty and the soppy Prince, whose kiss wakes her from a century-long slumber, but around Gary Crossan’s thoroughly nasty Maleficent, an effective alternative to the evil fairy whom the young audience hate on sight.
Diane Ennis’s bubblegum coloured, picture book set and James C McFetridge’s busy lighting ignite Mark Dougherty’s pop-inspired soundtrack, which sends the kids and their adult companions wild and crazy. After promising beginnings, however, the narrative meanders off piste in the second act with focus falling on the antics of sparky Fairy Stardust (Emer McDaid), confused Muddles (Nuala Davies) and Gordon Crawford’s (aka Trudy Scrumptious) slightly hesitant debutante dame Nanny Magee.
Eventually, the action leads back to the central dilemma of the snoozing Princess Beauty (Jolene O’Hara). Gavin Peden’s diminutive, squeaky voiced Prince Harry Smiles’s chances of reawakening her appear extremely slim, especially when he finds himself in the clutches of Maleficent, banged up behind bars in the unlikely company of Hansel, Snow White and Cinderella.
A madcap chase through the auditorium cranks up the hysteria level before order is restored with the demise of Maleficent, the destruction of his malign intentions and the long awaited kiss that puts it all to rights.
Runs until 7 January 2018.
This is an edited version of the review which was published in The Irish Times on 15 December.