JANUARY 7, 2024

Weird I know. I wanted to see the last night of the Theatre Royal Bath’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty directed by Jill Williams from the Gods. That’s the back row of the Grand Circle which in layman’s’ terms is about half a mile from the stage – thank goodness for binoculars.

For just over £10 a ticket the back row of the Theatre Royal Bath means an oxygen mask is essential, as by the time you have ascended the millions of flights of stairs you may not only be short of breath but suffering a nose bleed. But like ascending the highest peak in Bath at Alexandra Park you have splendid views of all the rows of seats in front – and there in the distance is the stage. Even without a show it’s a fabulous sight. Below are the boxes and expensive seats with a variety of heads to inspect, the impossibly steep stairs, the balcony and curves of the seating – which to be fair give generous space for those of us with long legs – so unlike a certain auditorium up the road in Bristol. Mentioning no names. It’s a symphony in velvet and crimson and gold.

Pantomimes are one of those things that can create a social divide. For some they are the theatre for the commoners or the great unwashed, only for those who go to the theatre once a year. A show filled with vulgarity and glitter– just like so much of TV and social media these days. What rubbish. For others a pantomime is a guaranteed two or more hours of high class entertainment of comedy, dance, song and storytelling that is part of British theatrical tradition. You pay your money and you take your chance. Panto is the theatre of tradition and of professional entertainment in a space the Ancient Greeks, Chaucer and Shakespeare would have recognised.

Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Sleeping Beauty was excellent – I’m not saying five stars – but the late Chris Harris would have approved of it. I’ve seen better pantos there and I’ve seen worse elsewhere, but the last night seen from the Gods was life affirming with its message of good over coming evil in such a jolly frightfully nice sort of way. The story seemed unlikely – and even if that was found wanting – the performance was superb.

First and foremost were the supporting troupe of dancers who gave the production star quality. How can anyone resist the charms of The Dorothy Coleburn School of Dance members who danced the way into our hearts as they took charge of scene after scene, filling the stage with happiness. Principal dancers Mercedes Brown, Elizabeth Lundy, Mathew Michaels, Kitty O’Gara, Megan Reidy and Liam Wetherell occupied the stage with grace, style, high kicks and Strictly Come Dancing energy. Worth the tenner ticket money on its own.

Sleeping Beauty herself was played by Maisie Sellwood who held the show together with her stage presence and strong voice as she failed to listen to the audience and allowed herself to be pricked by the spindle operated by badass Carabosse (Emma Noman) who threated to take over the show with her charismatic panto baddie persona. I was unconvinced by Princess Rose’s love interest Prince Vincent (Eastenders’s Neil McDermott) who must have been a decade or more older than she and who despite his credentials – tight breeches, a good voice and a handsome face – may have had one eye on the 10.35pm train back to London. Love, they kept pronouncing, trumps all but perhaps not quite in this case – although they would have looked good on a dating App.

Fairy Snowfall played by the sparkling pavlova with a cleavage Sarah Jane Buckley sprinkled plenty of good will as she flew into the stage on wires. Brimming with happiness and a willingness to fight the evils of Carabosse with fairy dust she was what every pantomime (and indeed the planet with its ills of war and poverty) needs. A world class ambassador of goodness.

Jon Monie as Lester the Jester and son of the panto dame Nanny Nora (Nick Wilton) kept the audience onside and asked four youngsters onto the stage ‘what was their favourite Christmas present’? Fortunately, he didn’t get any left field answers but rather items which I and many adults had no idea what they were – it’s all Greek to us oldies. A football or a doll would have done us back in the day.

Nick Wilton with his or her succession of outfits filled the role of dame with professionalism while his opposite number of David Pendlebury as The King also ruled the stage with authority and a voice that said I know what I’m doing – and they both did it very well.

The overall impression of the last night was a cast who knew the show back to front – but who made no lazy last night in jokes – but kept the production totally full on to the last song and dance. Full marks to the writer Jon Monie who put the show together although more local references and topical notes would have gained more laughs.

From where I was sitting some miles from the stage, the voices were clear and concise, the jokes brilliantly terrible, and the lights, sound, music and action just right. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for sitting in the cheap seats.

Harry Mottram

The show ran from 7th December 2023 to 7th January, 2024.

Although the show is over there is The Circle in the Main House next week. Details at https://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/whats-on/

Please note the theatre asks for no photos or videos to be taken of the show – so the photo I took is before the show began giving a view from the back row of the Grand Circle before most people arrived.

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