Director Chris Jarvis
Choreographer Katherine Iles
Musical Director Pierce Tee
The Wake Up Call
"Turn off your mobile phones and turn up the volume of your children," booms an off-stage voice at the start of Richmond Theatre's Sleeping Beauty. And the assorted kiddies in the stalls within our sight range certainly seemed enchanted with this traditional picture book version of the fairy tale at a glorious Frank Matcham theatre.
Maureen Lipman, channelling her back catalogue of Agony, Joyce Grenfell, BT adverts with a nod to Mozart and a current political leading lady, is the star attraction for adults in sparkling slinky black, slit to the thigh, but additionally doing the business for the children as wicked fairy Carabosse.
Cbeebies' Chris Jarvis, who also directs, as Chester The Jester ably corralls the audience into fits of laughter, along with Nursie, Matt Rixon (who last year was an ugly sister with his Dad Matthew Kelly) as dame, cracking those groan-inducing jokes with verve.
It's probably fair to say this family-friendly show is squarely aimed at the Cbeebies' age group, with topical and Richmond-based gags added for others. The costumes are delicious as if the characters had just stepped out of a lavishly illustrated picture book.
A villager - part of the dance troupe - somersaults in the first few moments of the show during an energetic routine choreographed by Katherine Iles with the faery tale towers in the background. A blonde pretty-in-pink princess - Lauren Hood - and a valiant prince - Dan Partridge - even if he is a bit of poseur, both display strong voices and nifty footwork.
The usual bit of audience participation, in this case gently done, adds spice for a panto equally gently drawing on some of the golden age of variety and vaudeville. A touch of the Max Wall drum rolls in a hide and seek scene. The Bandwagon's Triplets in the nursery scene and even some Will Hay mortar boards during a schoolroom scene.
There's also a fair sprinkling of time travelling songs, accompanied by a live orchestra, among them a Whitney Houston standard, a Rocky Horror Show hit and even drawing on the 1920s for the opening sequence of the second act. This is the kind of panto where sketch comedy scenes, ticking all the boxes of panto, drive the plot.
The little girls, at least the little girl sitting near me with her Mum, will adore the pink and white and glittery princess dresses. Nursie also goes through her own fashion time machine, a pink wellie Glastonbury grunge outfit or a 1960s' blond(e) beehive compete with glittery pink mini skirt amongst others.
Tania Newton also hit all the right notes, as Queen Britney. A commoner consort for old codger and straight-out-of-a-playing-card-set, King Hector - Graham James. While Tilly Ford as the Lilac Fairy mitigates the evil spell with graceful aplomb.
The spontaneity of the four kiddie audience volunteers - Hermione, ad-libbing Solomon, Sapphire and the little lad whose name I didn't quite catch - brought a different kind of delightful energy on stage, skilfully compèred by Chris Jarvis.
For me, the panto felt a little template-ish with turns neatly inserted. At the same time, it's still a magical introduction to live theatre for children in a TV and internet age and the chance to see the ever-popular Maureen Lipman.
Cheerful about all the generations from the Sugar Plum Fairy dance of the toys sequence to a zimmer frame oldies' routine, it obviously aims to fit like a comfortable slipper (to mix our panto metaphors).
So with singalongs, boomeranging toilet rolls (not guaranteed every night but you might strike lucky!), jokes ranging from those darn corny Christmas cracker puns through twerking to Honey G and, inevitably, Donald Trump, it's an amber light for an altogether wide-awake sunny midwinter treat of a Sleeping Beauty