PANTOMIME REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty by The Centre Theatre Players

The cast rehearsing Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Simon J Webb

The cast rehearsing Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Simon J Webb - Credit: Archant

Like Sleeping Beauty herself, you might expect a reviewer on her twelfth pantomime of the season to be settling into a long sleep, but with shows of the quality and sheer entertainment value of Centre Theatre Players’ latest offering to see, a hundred year snooze is neither a blessing nor a consequence.

Performing at the tail end of their 40th anniversary year, at the Burgess Hall, St Ives, to capacity audiences last week, Centre Players delighted, amused and brought traditional panto back to Cambridgeshire with a pyrotechnic bang, the whoosh of a super soaker not to mention several terrible gags delivered with inimitable timing by a range of seasoned performers of the first order.

Written by David Swan, the scenes were set in a colourful and authentic way with beautifully painted backcloths, terrific working props and breathtaking costumes.

In fact, the technical side of the production was uniformly impressive given the seamless scene changes, immaculate sound and lighting effects, superb costumes and makeup.

Despite a feeling sometimes that every panto routine possible was being thrown into this eclectic mix of merriment and mischief, this merely added to the pace and amusement of a piece of seasonal sauce directed in masterful fashion by Graeme Hammond and produced by Chris Jones.

May I emphasise what a relief it was to hear a really good live band after countless backing tracked professional shows. Given such a wonderful context in which to work, the actors’ work was partly done.

They, clearly, didn’t think so as their work rate was incredible; I fully expected Nick Thompson’s Oddjod to expire on the spot after his massive efforts in which he must have run the equivalent of ten times round St Ives at top speed during his carousing, comical turn.

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He was ably supported by a dame of the first order, Graham Lloyd as Penelope Pinchme, who could teach professional dames a thing or two or a hundred. The best panto players have that likeability, charisma and true connection with their audience. They make it look easy: Graham has that gift in abundance.

The truly wonderful thing about this particular panto was that it didn’t rest on one or two excellent players; there was strength in depth. Thus, Olga Pong, played magnificently by Vicky Grant, and Gormless, her repulsive son, portrayed to perfection by Simon J Webb, showed us that you can exude warmth and evil simultaneously, winning over the audience and scaring the little children just enough to please them and set the theatre alight. The child within us adults and the actual children in the audience were equally pleased.

There were some terrific supporting performances: the delightful Becky Keane with her interminable giggle as the Queen, the ever peckish, deadpan Ed Martin as King Rumbletum, not one but three fairies: Bounty, Smartie and Wispa played for sparkling barrels of laughs by Carol Houghton, Trish Fordham and Katie Hammond not to forget a jolly hockey sticks, thigh slapping Principal Boy ‘St Trinianed’ into submission by Sophi Berridge and a naïve, appropriately pretty Beauty played winningly by Emily Dowd. Cuddles the Panda was a veritable crowd pleaser as proven by Sarah West’s light touch.

The star of the show for me was Dick Chalkley. With the small role of the valet, Dick showed us what scene stealing of the gentlest hue is all about and reminded us that old time variety and comic timing will always win through.

From Nutcracker-like ballets to energetic tap in Vicky Grant’s wonderful dances, the choreography was a high kick in an evening of high points. Plenty of dry ice and glitter ensured that we felt that we had been thoroughly entertained so that it wasn’t a case of ‘Run along before your soup clots’ as Olga Pong the witch would admonish but more of a ‘tapping our troubles away’ in another truly professional offering from Centre Players. I look forward to Aladdin next year.