We don’t often get invited to review a pantomime at SOURCE. Give us a retro-futurist punk group, a quirky new vegan restaurant, or an edgy play about the hidden back alleys of Brighton and we’re off.
But an invite to the Barn Theatre in Southwick is always well worth the ride along the coast. It’s a venue known for punchy productions, friendly atmospheres and huge casts. So we knew the Southwick Players’ version of Sleeping Beauty would be a good bet. And it was.
You know the basic story. Three ‘tribes’ – dressed in red, blue and green – are invited to the royal palace. The cute princess is looking to start a family, as royals do, so cuts a dodgy deal of potions with an evil fairy. But that must have been Class A stuff. It knocked out the princess for a hundred years.
It took a good fairy to wave her wand and engage in some social levelling. So she put all the palace staff, the livestock and forest on sleep medication too. As usual, all hopes are pinned on a handsome prince arriving in the future to bring everyone back to life. Don’t try this at home folks!
This version of Sleeping Beauty was scripted by Norman Robbins – the doyen of amateur theatre and panto conventions – who died in 2016. Panto can seem like the ugly sister of theatre. True, it’s neither Harold Pinter nor Caryl Churchill. But its distinct history and conventions – drawn from Europe and beyond – goes back centuries.
Pantos have also been the launching ground for many contemporary actors and comedians. And they definitely fill theatres. But pantos aren’t an easy ride. “Oh yes they are!” Oh no they’re not.
This performance demonstrates the skills and extensive crew needed behind the scenes for a production of this scale. We had Amy Bowyer (director) supported by Amanda Reeves with Ella Turk-Thompson (musical direction), Amy Bowyer (choreography) and Anita Jones (producer).
There was a 10-strong stage crew supported by Pete Dilloway, four engaged in the lighting and sound, with a team of nine involved in the costume and make-up. Behind the scenes, an additional 10 people designed and built the set. You can hardly call this ‘amateur’.
A cast of 13 played The Royal Family, Royal Court and magic folk, supported by an adult chorus, a teens team and two teams of children! Phew, that meant nearly 40 actors, singers or dancers on stage at the end.
It was a full house but, towards the end, the (exuberant) background music did crowd out some actors’ words. And an audience singsong towards the end wasn’t fully convincing. However, the appearance of Dr Who’s time travelling Tardis in a sleepy English village was a delightful sight.
Southwick Barn, Wednesday 4th January 2023
Photos by Sam Taylor