"it’s a long, strange journey"
by Jeremy Miles for remotegoat on 20/12/18

“I think I’ve got a resting bitch face;” said actress Rita Simons as they dropped her into the Australian jungle this year. “Everyone thinks I’m going to be horrible.”

Fresh from her stint in the bush on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and after just a couple of days rehearsal, that face is now earning its keep in Sleeping Beauty, this year’s Bournemouth panto.
As cackling evil fairy Carabosse, Simons, who found fame as EastEnders nightmare Roxy Mitchell, is in her element. The boos and hisses are deafening as she plots to kill the beautiful Princess Rose with a poisoned needle from a spinning wheel.

Happily Carabosse’s saintly sister - the Princess’s Fairy Godmother - played by Sarah Jane Buckley (best known as crazy Kathy Barnes from TVs Hollyoaks) launches into a damage limitation exercise. With a wave of her wand she commutes the Carabosse death sentence to merely sleeping for a 100 years before being woken by a kiss from her beau, the handsome Prince.

The struggle between good and evil is of course central to the Sleeping Beauty fairytale but with this madcap cast directed by David Ball, who also plays the excellent dame, Nurse Nellie, it ricochets all over the place before reaching its inevitable happily-ever-after conclusion.
With Bournemouth Pavilion stalwart Noel Brodie as cheeky-chappy Silly Billy keeping things rolling along with fine comic timing, the show rarely falters but it does seem a little disjointed at times.
Where it works it works extremely well. The King played by Mark Peachey is a hoot and there are some superb set pieces - a traditional mirror scene, a spot of crazy cooking in Nurse Nellie’s kitchen, special effects, a lot of flying, a dragon to be slain and even a spot of time travel.

There are songs galore including - a big hit with the kids - Baby Shark and a quick rendition of the I’m A Celebrity anthem Rice and Beans. Just in case you’d forgotten that the last time Rita Simons was on primetime Tv for any length of time she was eventually found drowned at the bottom of a swimming pool, there was the percussive sound of the opening bars of the EastEnders theme.

In the end the Sleeping Beauty (Olivia Birchenough) gets her Prince (Dennis Grindel) but it’s a long, strange journey (even for panto-land) to get there. My verdict? This show is enormous fun, extremely well executed but probably 20 minutes too long.

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