For the first time in my (admittedly young) career, I’m stumped. How do you critique a pantomime?
Bear with me here; panto is a form of entertainment, therefore should theoretically be critiqued as being bad or good, but when a panto’s unofficial job is to be half-pish, somewhat purposefully, how can you say it’s bad?! This is the conundrum I faced while watching maybe the fifth or sixth pantomime in my lifetime, but the first one I saw without an aunt saying “Keep a hold of my hand, Laura” : “Sleeping Betty”.
Betty is a princess with a severe case of narcolepsy, a boring conversation sends the Zzz’s floating from her mouth. That shouldn’t be a problem when her birthday party is in full swing and she gets the chance to meet Handsome Dan, the “falncy dalncer”, but the party spirit is crushed by the evil fairy, Fairly Evil, who curses poor Betty and only her sidekick, Hamish The Hamster (a hamster called Hamish) can save her.
Betty (Stacey Stone’s Amy Scott) is a princess with Minnie Mouse ears for a crown, celebrating her 16th Birthday at least a decade too late. Her prince, Handsome Dan, (Love Me Tender’s Darren Brownlie) looks like a glittery version of Prince Charming who talks while swallowing his tongue and “pralnces” like Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood. Fairly Evil (Yer Granny‘s Louise McCarthy) looks like a cross between Princess Fiona and Matron Mama Morton, with an unholy mix of glitter and black leather. Hamish, the hamster, is a flatulent hamster named Hamish (Chewin’ The Fat and Balamory’s Julie Wilson Nimmo). However, the main comedy elements came from Neil Thomas (Little Shop of Horrors) Betty’s pie and pint-loving Fairy Godfather, Fairly Evil’s teddy-loving henchman, Nearly Evil and the audience’s Gary-lovin’, Queen Pantalooney. Unfortunately, one round of drag wasn’t enough for this production and so a tall demon-feline hybrid came on stage (Susan Boyle UK Tour’s Ryan Ferrie) in latex and skyscraper heels, doing backflips and hissing as Fairly Evil’s pet, looking more suitable for burlesque than panto.
So, what makes a good panto? Music that gets the crowd going? Check! Toes were tapping and hands were clapping. Audience participation? The beauty of The Tron Theatre is its intimacy; grabbing a few willing participants from the balcony barely took a minute, not to mention Queen Pantalooney slipping into the aisle to plant a smacker on the afore-mentioned, Gary. Poor jokes? Well, put it this way, Betty sang an entire song of woe about how she only got to play one character; a song disguised as a distraction from the costume change. Are self-aware jokes funny? This audience weren’t complaining!
What made it bad? Almost everything! But it’s panto; it’s designed as a fun-filled night of singing, laughter and over-dramatic hissing at appropriate scenarios and villains while pretending you’re a fraction of the age that you really are! On that note, I’d call “Sleeping Betty” a raving success!
“Sleeping Betty” is on at The Tron Theatre from Friday 27th Nov – Sun 3rd Jan 2016