The Rock 'n' Roll Panto at the New Wolsey, Ipswich
Princess Susie ?
Well, if you're a Rock 'n' Roll Panto, the cue for a song must have been just too hard to resist.
This is the twelfth in the Wolsey's smash-hit series, and, like all good panto houses, it has developed much loved tropes and traditions: the chorus of critters, the lame rhymes, the jokes at the expense of Norwich City, the visual puns ["Baby Bouncer"] and of course the superb actor musicians who play all the instruments and all the familiar roles. With the usual "gratuitous cover versions of golden oldies" – well, they said it …
Diego Pitarch, who's also designed the costumes, has given us a beautiful pop-up storybook set – sparkly clocks a feature, with gothic details and an ingenious alcove upstage. Plenty of room for the musicians, too, and for Ally Holmes's lively choreography.
Good to welcome back Will Kenning back for his third year in the frocks – he's Dame Taffeta Trott this year, bringing his irrepressible energy and sense of the ridiculous to the role, with manic, breathless pace and not a hint of campery.
Springing up through proper stage traps, the two fairy forces for good, Esther Biddle's assertive Fairy Fanciful – a bit like a jolly headmistress – and her apprentice, Frederica, wonderfully characterized by Sarah Mahony, with her youth-speak, her boots and her boater. On the dark side, we have Karen Mann's malevolent Morgana, voice like a buzz-saw, making a spectacular upstage entrance and her spoilt son Mordred, OTT and charmless, he nonetheless gets his own high-energy number to sing – a memorable villain from Steve Simmonds. Michael Paver, blowing his own trumpet, is Harold the Herald, and Sean Kingsley wrings every last drop of character from King Candlesticks Camelot. Vocally impressive, too. Simon Steadfast, our likeable, honest hero is played with considerable charm by Peter Manchester. Lilly Howard is his Susie, looking lovely in her Lulu outfit and singing beautifully, notably in "My Guy".
Like Matthew Bourne's new ballet, this Sleeping Beauty is set in Victorian times; then, after a hundred-year interval, we wake in the Swinging Sixties; cue for some loving recreations by wardrobe [Taffeta's geometric dress] and for plenty of those chart-topping standards, plus one or two wild cards: Under the Moon of Love, brilliantly sold here by Kingsley and Kenning, which might have been totally forgotten were it not for Showaddywaddy ...
Everyone of the ten-strong company has a moment in the limelight – even Domestos/drummer Kieran Bailey, with his farting sink-plunger. The sound effects – another tradition – superb as ever.
"Celebration", "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go", "It's In His Kiss", "I'll Be Watching You", "Brand New Bag", the Dame channelling Chaka Khan, Morgana on glocks, Sprite Frederica on flute, and before we know it we're onto the name checks and the party-mix finale. The audience loved every minute – babes in arms, wolf cubs in the front, Novotel at the back, and good sport Terry in row D.
Sleeping Beauty written by Peter Rowe and directed by Rob Salmon, with Ben Goddard in charge of all that music, is at the Wolsey till almost the end of January, with more than seventy shows still to come for this gloriously unique panto company.
production photos - Mike Kwasniak