Sleeping Beauty – King’s Theatre

Written by Alan McHugh

Directed by Ed Curtis

Choreography by Karen Martin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sleeping for a thousand years sounds like quite the treat after the recent times we’ve faced, doesn’t it? And though the King’s Panto may have only rested its eyes for shy of two years, It feels an eternity since the audiences and families of Edinburgh were greeted by their old Panto Pals; welcomed into the warmth and lustre of our own Lady of Leven Street – who after all this time still stands tall, housing the biggest Festive party of the season.

Crossroad Pantomime presents Sleeping Beauty as “The Pantomime of Your Dreams”, and truth be told, there’s something to this. Whereas in the past, the King’s Panto has leapt between gimmick and sparkly delight, this year sees a return to grassroots Pantomime (with a few covid-strip backs) and captures a wholesomeness and simplicity to the show.

We say simplicity – there’s still plenty of plot exposition going on here. In the kingdom of Auchenreekie, a wonderfully beautiful princess awaits her destiny under the watchful eye of her substantially less beautiful mother, Queen May. But there’s a shadow to every light. A sweet to every salted, and a Jambo to every Hibbie. Princess Narcissa, cousin to the princess and daughter of Queen May’s somehow identical twin sister Carabosse. And on the eve of their 21st birthday, Carabosse has a rather particular gift for her niece – something which has been hidden her entire life.

Trading in their washing rags for a festive crown, Allan Stewart bumps May up the social ladder into Queen of Auchenreekie. From matchmaking to puns galore, to see Stewart return to the stage he has called his own for many years now is a touching reunion to witness. The audience are kittens to cream with Stewart’s routines – even the ones they’ve seen before. There’s showmanship few else can capture, a contemporary vaudeville that combines in the moment improv with continuing the show despite hiccups and prop failures. And this year, Stewart seems to have added stuntman to his long list of talents.

Sharing the limelight is the star of radio and weekly Scottish show River City (did he mention he was in this yet?) Grant Stott, who somehow finds time in his busy busy schedule for the minions and peasants of Edinburgh. But let’s face it. No one wants to be a hero, or a princess or a jester – we want to be the villain, to tell everyone we’ve dreamed of to shoosh and shut it. To flounce around in the fineries of magnificently malevolent costumes, courtesy of Mike Coltman, and have a jolly good time of it all. This year is no different for Stott, strapping on those heels and plucking those whiskers to embody the heartless mistress herself Carabosse. But thankfully for Stott, there’s someone else to take up full-time residence as the annual tongue-twister flubber…

Jordan Young charismatically slots himself as an integral part of the King’s Panto and is a welcome returning face. Muddles the Jester makes the perfect best pal and romance for Sia Dauda’s Princess Aurora, the pair displaying a gentle back and forth and playful nature with Clare Gray, who strides into the spotlight her father once gloried and is right at home with the cast. Ed Curtis’ direction knows where to align Alan McHugh’s script with structure, and where to allow chaos to ripple within the cast. And though McHugh’s writing takes this panto closer to its communal roots, what it achieves is an accessible and enjoyable experience for all – and allow bigger laughs and those craved slip-ups.

But fret not, for the magic and spectacle still present themselves, but savour the moments. Illusions extraordinaire with enough pyrotechnics to take off an eyebrow or three – Sleeping Beauty plays host to a few surprise tricks which were never to be expected. From the daredevil antics of Queen May straddling a motorcycle to a particularly frightful appearance from a red-eyed and hairy behemoth (not Stott pre-makeup), special effects and set design from Twins FX and Ian Westbrook all aid in conjuring a spectacular fantasy world to house this cast of rogues, clowns and princesses.

For many, this is a rather special production. And yes, there is a bittersweet moment in re-capturing the magic of the King’s Panto this year. The last production to be staged in the King’s before its refurbishment, Stott’s initial take on Sleeping Beauty, and of course the first performance without Andy Gray. It would be ill-conceived to consider what role or presence Gray would have brought – but the cast of Sleeping Beauty put it poignantly and powerfully in their finale, a touching tribute which cements one thing above all else – King Andy would have been proud.

So don’t sleep on this one, you’ve had a year off for heaven’s sakes! Sleeping Beauty returns the pantomime to its home, and before the theatre receives a much-needed slumber of her own, dazzles and beguiles the families of the city with its touching moments, ridiculous humour and a reminder of the sensational community spirit we share. For the lords, the ladies, and the rabble – theatre is back. Panto is back. We’re back.

Sleeping Beauty runs at the King’s Theatre until January 16th. Tickets for which can be booked here.

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