Sleeping Beauty

CAROLINE CULOT Norwich Theatre Royal

CAROLINE CULOT

> Norwich Theatre Royal

It can only happen in the world of pantomime that you get a Bad Girl singing from the Phantom of the Opera and a hunky TV doctor in tights called Percy Lostalot.

Oh, then there was Brian Hibbard, from the Flying Pickets, singing Only You, dressed as the dame and Rikki Jay swinging across the stage as both Spiderman and Batman.

Yes, it all happens in the name of the Theatre Royal pantomime, which officially opened yesterday to packed houses. And if pantomimes are all about spreading a little magic, then we were certainly put under its spell.

Another production directed by Richard Gauntlett, and co-written with Rikki Jay, the show started with a spectacular entrance in a winged chariot by the Wicked Queen, Morgan Le Fay, played by Nicole Faraday, from TV's Bad Girls.

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But we were all really awaiting the entrance of our much-loved entertainer Rikki Jay, now in his seventh panto in Norwich, and he makes a fantastic arrival by a Thunderbirds 1 space rocket.

This year sees a different Dame, with Brian Hibbard playing Nanny Nicehands because Gauntlett, who usually does this role, is currently in the Lion King in the West End.

Gauntlett and Jay have a really special rapport on stage together. So I think audiences will miss their double act, and there was not quite the spark between the Dame and Jay's character Muddles as we have enjoyed with the other pairing. Perhaps this will grow as the show goes on.

If anything, Jay really carries the show - he is a fantastic live performer with the gift of the gab and the ad lib.

The kids just love him and he was definitely my son's favourite character with the slapstick scene involving bell ringers and the sound of a toilet flushing - call it real toilet humour I suppose - being a particular highlight.

This year sees a really honest production aimed at children and with none of that awful smutty humour which sometimes creeps in under the guise of “giving something for the adults”.

A cliché it may be, but this is really good clean fun. Also, although Gauntlett and Jay inject their own ideas, they stick faithfully to the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Well, that is except for the ending, which sees Girl Power prevail and there's no harm in that is there?

There is plenty of local input too, with young performers from the Central School of Dancing and Performing Arts in Norwich and both the King and Queen played by locals.

And predictably we have a few local jokes, namely a jibe against Ipswich Town FC and another about the new Chapelfield shopping centre.

What I really applaud is the fact the actors played their parts honestly.

And, girls, you get a real man in tights in this show. Hunky Shane Cortese (who played the Prince Charming in Cinderella in 2000) gave a subtle performance as the hapless prince. And with looks like that, he cannot go wrong!

This show has plenty more surprises, making it an enjoyable family show, and by the look of ticket sales, a record breaker for the theatre.

Sleeping Beauty runs until January 22 and there are tickets still available for some performance on 01603 630000.

Sleeping Beauty looks all set to break box office records for the annual panto at the Norwich Theatre Royal after already taking £500,000 in bookings by December 19. Last year's production Aladdin took some £596,000 altogether - so this year's show looks to do even better. The panto has gone from strength to strength since Richard Gauntlett took over as director and co-writer with Rikki Jay.

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