Emma Geliot's picture

The Sleeping Beauties at The Sherman Cymru

There s little point reviewing a production aimed at young audiences without some children to provide feedback. So I rounded up a representative sample seven year old twins, the scientist s ideal, one of each sex and headed for The Sherman with their mother refereeing the lively gabble in the back of the car.

Can we sleep in this? asks the boy (let s call him Jack),It s Sleeping Beauty isn't it, I ll want to sleep . I explain that in fact there are two sleeping beauties and he mimes a gun to the head and shoutsKill me now! His sister,Jilly is busy primping her new pink, jewel-encrusted going-to-the-theatre dress and twinkling her glittery gold pumps, squirming with excitement.

Minutes before we go in Mummy mentions that there s usually some sort of fight between her two little cherubs (thanks for the warning mate). I ve explained that if, when the baddie appears, we re invited to boo and hiss then this is acceptable behaviour, but if they try it anywhere else they re likely to be escorted from the premises, feet barely touching the ground.

Sitting adult-child-adult-child to nip potential fights in the bud, we'vejust taken our seats when it begins.

A witch-like narrator (but pretty, without warts and a very nice singing voice) begins the story, accompanying herself on a piano that has a spinning wheel attached to its back. Straight away it s dark, as it becomes apparent that there s nasty work afoot, trouble with a wizard, the queen s inability to conceive and a threatened purge of the fertility women in the forest. Do children know whatfertility andbarren mean, I wonder? But a glance at the rapt faces beside me suggests that it doesn t matter.This is quite scary isn t it Mummy? says Jack,Actually it s quite interesting . Jilly is leaning so far forward, straining to see and hear everything, that I worry she ll fall into the couple in front. I can't help noticing that the adults far outnumber the children in the audience.

As it unfolds I m getting strong hints of Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter this is worlds away from the saccharine panto. Okay, there s magic, music, dancing and, later on, a man dressed as a woman, but the script is definitely designed to keep the adults alert. Does Jack notice that the male roles are either witless or evil and that the female characters are pretty much in charge (with the caveat that the queen forgets a promise and brings on the sleeping curse and the execution of her best friend), perhaps he doesn t care he s outnumbered tonight anyway.

The queen is made pregnant by the witch, on the understanding that she stops the witch-genocide instigated by the king (but under the evil influence of the wizard). Of course she forgets or the plot would end here. Instead, in a wonderful scene, she and her faithful made synchronise their pregnancies and give birth to our eponymous heroines. But a promise broken spells a whole heap of trouble and at the naming ceremony the King and Queen are given fifteen years grace to spend with their daughter and then... well you know how it goes: spindle+finger+death, subtract intervention from best friend and death is commuted to a long sleep.

Almost before we know it the plot has galloped along and the two beauties (Princess Dawn and her best friend Eve) are slumbering in the forest for 1,000 years (or for at least as long as it will take us to buy some ice-cream). Jilly is twirling around in the foyer, carried away by magic and Jack is begging to go back in for part two I explain that we ll have to wait for the curtain to go up and smirk inwardly at this volte face.

Zzzzzz... the beauties snooze out the dregs of the curse as our hero, Prince (the prince is called Prince), roller-skates into view (let s pretend that these are magic skates that can traverse a forest floor without a pratfall), kisses the princess and thereby incenses her friend, who punches him unconscious.

And here s the problem: with sleeping beauty times two and only one prince who definitely only fancies one of the beauties, the green eyed monster is bound to rear its head. So the friendship (which has already saved the princess from certain death) is sorely tested as Dawn goes all gooey eyed at the frankly rather gormless prince and Eve seethes. Oblivious, Dawn is all excited about the forthcoming ball, laid on by the Queen (who of course is the evil wizard of a millennium ago in a kind of Miss Whiplash drag), intent on stealing her beauty to feed her powers. We have segued into Snow White, complete with poisoned apple and a talking mirror, less than impressed with the Queen s beauty now that Dawn is on the scene.

Of course it all turns out fine in the end, but there are some great set pieces along the way and regular laughter from the audience, while in the darker moments the rustle of sweetie wrappers is stilled.

It s a small cast just seven players, all working their socks off but seems bigger, with a versatile set that means there are no pauses for re-jigging. Musical theatre can make me feel a bit twitchy but here the balance was just right and the singing kept to the narrator.

And they all lived happily ever after. Which was nice.

But what about my guinea pigs?Which bit did you like best Jack? I ask.When the girl punched the prince was my favourite .What about you Jill? La,la,lah , is as much as I m going to get out of the pink glittering whirligig. Mummy was impressed that they were so engrossed and was able to enjoy the show herself without wading in to deflect punches. As for me, I m glad that this is the family Christmas show I chose to review: full of wit and intelligence for the adults and a plot that moves at such a pace that there s no time for little bottoms to start wiggling on seats.

And of course, there was no booing and hissing, my speedy lesson in theatrical etiquette will have to wait for another day. But there was a lot of enthusiastic clapping. Quite right too.


The Sleeping Beauties at The Sherman Cymru By: Robert Alan Evans Director: Roisin McBrinn Designer: Rachael Canning Composer and Musical Director: Lucy Rivers Lighting Designer: Sally Ferguson Movement Director: Yael Loewenstein Cast: Lisa Jen Brown, Matthew Bulgo, Gruffudd Glyn, Bettrys Jones, Gwawr Loader, Adam Scales, Molly Vevers