- Miles Hedley
SLEEPING BEAUTY at Greenwich Theatre
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
One of the reasons audiences adore Pixar films such as Toy Story is that they are child-friendly fantasies shot through with whip-smart adult-oriented jokes. But isn’t that what pantos have been doing since the dawn of time? And there’s no better example of this than Sleeping Beauty, now pulling in the punters at Greenwich Theatre.
In fact writer, director and star Andrew Pollard - the venue’s Christmas panto mastermind for more than a decade now - has surpassed himself this year because his 2019 show isn’t just a cocktail of wonderful child-friendly cheers, boos, behind-yous, oh-no-it’s-nots, singing puppets and cake-throwing mixed with glorious grown-up gags about Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, post-modernism, conspiracy theories, Plumstead and sexual objectification.
He’s also added an extra ingredient to mark the 50th anniversary of four key events in 1969 - the rebirth of Greenwich Theatre, the first man on the Moon, the Beatles’ final recording session and, of course, Lulu winning Eurovision with Boom-Bang-A-Bang.
And as if all that isn’t enough, he’s brought back Anthony Spago (above with Pollard), indisputably panto’s finest villain, whose portrayal of Rasputin is a cross between Russell Brand and Sergei the TV meerkat with more than a hint of Kenneth Williams.
Pollard himself reprises his usual role of the dame, this year masquerading as Bertha, who is married to Russian Tsar Ivan the Slightly Irritable (Martin Johnston) in one of two parallel plots. The first is set in St Petersburg and involves Rasputin plotting to kill the imperial family and rule the world. The second is set in Greenwich in 1969 and features the true story of actor Ewan Hooper battling to restore the town’s semi-derelict theatre.
So far, so logical. But this is panto and over the course of a couple of hours or so Ewan (Regan Burke) finds himself a trapped in a surreal journey through time and space with Fairy Fabergé (Funlola Olufunwa) to fall in love with Russian princess Anastasia (Esme Bacalla-Hayes), foil the evil stratagems of Rasputin, travel to the Moon and return to Greenwich for a triumphant reopening of the theatre.
I particularly enjoyed some of the subtler gags - Rasputin’s sly wink that cast doubt on the whole NASA Apollo programme, long-standing musical director Steve Markwick’s repeated use of the Beatles’ Abbey Road classic I Want You (She’s So Heavy) as a linking device and the transformation by set designer Cleo Pettitt of a Baroque portrait in the Tsar’s 19th century bedroom into a post-modern Haring-style rendering of the same picture when the scene is fast-forwarded 100 years.
And what’s not to love about spontaneous acts of corpsing and fluffing, fabulously dodgy accents and Sades Robinson’s sensationally ridiculous costumes such as Pollard’s ballgown bedecked with black puddings and, best of all, the bonkers silver hotpants sported by Björn (Eli Caldwell), an entirely gratuitous male Swedish aupair whose accent is almost as delightfully daft as Rasputin’s.
Sleeping Beauty is a real joy because it works on so many levels – as a festive show packed with laughs suitable for all the family, as an excuse for kids to chuck stuff and shout as much as they could possibly want, as a chance for older adults to remember the fun they had half a century ago to a soundtrack of Beatles’ anthems and tunes by the likes of Lulu, Sandie Shaw and David Bowie, and also as an affectionate tribute to Greenwich Theatre itself and the man who made all this possible. Ewan Hooper, would, I’m sure, have approved as much as the packed house did on the night I was there.
There are still a few tickets left for the run, which ends on January 12. But they’re going fast so you’ll have to hurry if you want one. More details at https://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/sleeping-beauty