It is a very good idea for a community company to stage a pantomime in the February half term when Christmas is just a distant memory and local families are hungry for entertainment. This has now become a regular annual project for GDS to counterbalance their autumn musical. Unsurprisingly, the matinee performance I saw was sold out.
Carly Caller steals the show as Carabosse. Her high-octane performance would give many a professional a run for her/his money. She has a very powerful but well-modulated singing voice with impressive control over sustained notes. She looks terrific in bright green with shiny bits and, an accomplished actor, she oozes stage presence. In Ben Crocker’s version of Sleeping Beauty she is always flanked by her cat, Spindleshanks: Megan Chapman, who also turns out a fine performance with lots of petulant insubordination. The two work exceptionally well together.
Used as we are now to gender-blind casting this was the first time I’ve seen a woman cast as a pantomime dame. As Queen Dotty, Marianna Allen’s scene miming The Flight of the Bumble Bee by Nicholai Ripyourcorsetsoff at the piano which concludes with her swatting a bee and saying “B flat” is both funny and original. On the whole, though the humour in this show is a bit laboured with too many punchlines thrown away as it lumbers from a lacklustre opening through set pieces such as slosh and ghost scenes all the way to the pre-finale singsong which is, of course, Baby Shark - apparently compulsory for this season’s pantos.
As Princess Aurora, Rachael Heard sings with conviction and musiciality and she looks suitably pretty and innocent. Arguably she’s a bit underused. Also noteworthy are Tonia Plowman who gives us an appealing, feisty Fairy Peaceful and Laura Stoneman as Billy who seems wooden at the beginning but warms later especially in the rather better second half.
As always with GDS the stalwart ensemble, including six children, works hard (choreography by Emma Constantine) and there’s a good sound coming from the three-piece live band which sits just in a corner below stage right.