The old ‘Christmas Pantos’ in Sydney introduced many kids to the theatre, but until Bonnie Lythgoe saw the ‘niche’ for a winter holiday show for kids, we have missed out on the fun and cheekiness, music and dancing, colour and audience participation that is at the heart of pantomime.
The production of Sleeping Beauty – A Knight Avenger’s Tale, in the best of panto tradition, calls on some theatrical ‘names’ to bring the ‘nasty and nice’ characters of fairy tales to life in a performance that gives them the chance to go ‘over the top’ to the rapturous response of an audience more used to a posse of screen ‘goodies and baddies’ brandishing weapons rather than magic.
Rhonda Burchmore does the bad fairy thing as the scheming Carabosse. In high stilettos and lots of purple hued glitter she struts the stage, threatening mayhem, until she reveals her thwarted love for the princess’s father in a throaty rendition of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”. Burchmore is an audience favourite and she gives them the pizazz they love.
Melissa Tkautz is her nemesis, the Good Fairy. In shimmery gold, and with typical panto not-very-good rhyme, she summarises the beginning of the story and introduces the characters, including the comedy duo of Silly Billy, the Court Jester – played once again by Britain’s Kev Orkian and Nanny Twinkle – played with a dash of theatrical zing by Katrina Retallick.
Embla Bishop is the chaste, pretty princess, protected for twenty years from the danger of Carabosse’s curse, and hoping her 21st birthday will break the spell forever – and allow her to marry the handsome Prince Valiant played with chivalrous formality by Daniel Milne.
Veteran British actor Frazer Hines plays her father, King Louis, and Matt Geronimi returns to the Lythgoe panto stage as his squire, Chambers. Newcomer Cameron Taylor hovers around the stage as Carabosse’s minion, Cousins – and surprises the audience with his real height in the silly parody of “On the First Day of Christmas” … which was a disappointing reprise of a segment from last year’s panto.
The chorus provides colourful and talented song and dance support, and though Sleeping Beauty has neither the depth of plot nor the possibility of characters of 1917’s panto, Peter Pan, it has the appeal to attract good holiday audiences to one of Sydney’s State-ly old ladies of the theatre.