A Christmas cracker with Joe and friends

Joe Pasquale as Muddles and Ceri Dupree as Queen Passionella. Theatre Royal Nottingham panto. Sleeping Beauty. 2011-2012.
Joe Pasquale as Muddles and Ceri Dupree as Queen Passionella. Theatre Royal Nottingham panto. Sleeping Beauty. 2011-2012.

WHAT a cracker of a start to Christmas. Theatre Royal pantos seldom disappoint and this season’s offering of Sleeping Beauty fits the bill perfectly.

With Joe Pasquale headlining, laughs are assured. Muddles – building an excellent rapport with the children – is just about the perfect casting for this high-energy comedian and he pools all his stage and small screen experience into a dominant and professional performance.

There are even times when he isn’t doing anything in particular but the laughter still flows and he leaves you with the feeling that he can handle any audience intervention or onstage crisis, whether scripted or unscripted, with aplomb.

Nottingham pantomimes in the past have seen Bradley Walsh and Brian Conley excel and perhaps the best praise you can offer Pasquale is to say that he is of their class. But beware of his giant water pistol – even Row J isn’t out of range.

Such a character needs quality back-up from the dame and here Ceri Dupree, who plays Queen Passionella, must rank among the best. Sometimes the dame can grate, with seemingly little to offer but outrageous dresses festooned with unlikely items such as saucepans, frying pans and anything else which is at hand.

Not this one. It is a smooth act, evocative of Danny La Rue, including a couple of half-decent impersonations of Shirley Bassey and Tina Turner. The dresses are pure quality and the speed of change staggering. 

There is a strong performance from Jenna Lee-James, casting her villainous spells as Carabosse, and Lucy Evans (Princess Beauty), Shona White (Enchantress), Alex Woodhall (Slimeball), Scott Mobley (Prince Daniel) and James Paterson (King Clarence) also do well.

This year’s show again features some amazing 3D sequences, spectacles collected on the way in enabling the audience to take the enchanted forest to another dimension, with hordes of weird, in-your-face creatures that would leave even Sir David Attenborough lost for words.

Colour and spectacle are a given at such productions and the evening is a surefire method of enabling adults to forget the Euro crisis for a time and see their children offered a fun introduction to the theatre.

Sleeping Beauty is at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Sunday, January 15.