The Essex Group at Witham Public Hall
Gary Sullivan's Sleeping Beauty – bringing the shameless excitement of panto to Witham – takes some liberties with the tale, but gives generous opportunities to its performers of all ages. The script revels in some entertaining flights of linguistic fancy and rhyming fun.
The production has a professional feel – flashy merchandise, strong, outgoing performances, slick choreography, impressive pyrotechnics and a hi-tech mirror ball.
And there are some excellent people in the company. Engaging the audience and providing much of the on-stage energy, Josh Handley's lively Jester Jack, a perfect panto performance. A nice foil for the coarse-grained Nanny Sally of writer/director Gary Sullivan.
Jackie Parry has all the menacing moves for a boo-able Maleficent, another strong characterization. Very promising work from many of the youngsters: George Bedwell as the Squire to Julian Harris's “stunning looking Prince”, Lily Downes as Subservient, sidekick to the Wicked Witch, and Ben Blackborow working incredibly hard as a bumbling aviator, a village idiot, Walnut and Dreyfus the Dragon.
Shona Ekins makes a charming, feisty Fairy Nuff, marshalling her tiny corps de ballet, “representing the whole fairy kingdom”. Nice, confident performances, beautifully costumed. Super frocks for the dancers, too, even for the trees in the “obnoxious forest”. And of course some gorgeous creations for the Dame, including a great super-hero reveal.
The musical numbers are polished and energetic – a Hairspray kick-line, something sweet from Anastasia, and for the happy-ever-after ending, Grease and Walk the Moon. A little more music would have been welcome, and a little less innuendo, perhaps.
Essex Group are back in panto mode next year – nine performances of Puss in Boots for Christmas 2016 – but before then, the ever-popular Oliver!, coming to the Public Hall in April.