Theatre Review: Sleeping Beauty – Focus Pocus, Or Fairy Wail

December 31, 2015



Sleeping Beauty: The Pantomime Of Your Dreams / Directed by Janice Honeyman / Mandela, Joburg Theatre, Johannesburg


Pantomime: “A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.”

The 2015 Joburg Theatre production, Sleeping Beauty: The Pantomime Of Your Dreams ticked some of these boxes some of the time, but never made the grade in all departments simultaneously.

“A theatrical entertainment”? Well, yes – it was in a theatre, and that theatre was full, but the entertainment aspect is not as sustained as in years past. The pacing was off, which must be put down to a couple of things: a script that doesn’t fizz, but rather simply links the setpiece, and a cast that does not always seem to have the collective focus (the hive mentality, if you will) to make the story really pop.

“Mainly for children”? Without a doubt. From the fairies to the soundtrack (which includes the still-ubiquitous Let It Go from Frozen) to the appearance of a Minion (cue shouts of BANANAAAA!), there are regular reference points to make little eyes light up and bring smiles to kids’ faces.

“Involves music”? Yes, and the band – directed by Marga Sander – is excellent. The soundtrack plays, again, to the more youthful members of the crowd, with the audience participation number being Silento’s huge hit Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae), the appeal of which will be perplexing to many of the parents who brought that segment of the throng to the venue. The old-fashioned, traditional numbers have made way for current radio hits – good for some quick recognition; less so for enduring appeal.

“Topical appeal”? Less so than any pantomime of the last few years. It may be that director Janice Honeyman– probably wisely – assumed that 2015 has been such a rubbish year in South African current affairs that reminding everyone of what went on would be a downer rather than anything close to entertainment. Still, the bits and pieces that do make it in feel fluffy, even by the family-friendly standards of the panto – easy targets rather than the product of the shrewd, critical thinking Honeyman has laced so many of her scripts with before.

“Slapstick comedy”? Yes, and plenty of it, but again, it’s been done better – in this context – before. Tobie Cronje as Dame Nora Nursey still leads the way, his patter crisper patter and his delivery more satisfying than most of his co-stars. Elsewhere, LJ Urbani and Michele Levin as King Daffy Dum Doodle and Queen Dolly Dum Dilly respectively go over the top to just the right degree, but they’re not consistently joined there by too many of their colleagues.

Carmen Pretorius, veteran of lead roles in Mamma Mia, The Sound Of Music and other large productions, appears unbilled as part of the ensemble and is noticeable for a touch more assurance in her movement and vocals. As such, her presence draws attention to the relative lack of that poise in some of the other, younger cast members.

Through a critical eye, looking for meticulous attention to detail and coruscating wit, Sleeping Beauty: The Pantomime Of Your Dreams! Doesn’t deliver to expectations (4/10, perhaps). Through a child’s eyes, though – and kids are the major target here, and an audience that must be catered to and developed as often as possible – it’s funny, surprising and colourful (8/10). Perhaps that’s enough.