It is almost comically calculated to stir up timid traditionalists. The enchanted sleeper is a bloke – David Emmings the cheerily Woosterish Prince Percy  in plus-fours . His rescuer is a lairy black modern streetwise girl from a hovel : Kezrena James as Deilen. She doesn’t kiss the centennial snorer for his beauty, but in a heroic attempt at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She then reluctantly allows the rather wussy, cottonwool-raised Prince to join her heroic quest for something from a different fairytale altogether; she shares her bivouac and saves him – and some enslaved fairy- godmother aunties – when he is turned into a pig by the bad fairy though “actually I rather like you as a pig”. That the couple share a final kiss does not imply any surrender of her fierce feminism, perish the thought. They go off adventuring, and she is still the leader.


All of which is fine by me, since I know at least one real Bertie Wooster saved by a tough street girl. But some have taken the gender-swop amiss, especially from director-deviser Sally Cookson whose wonderful Jane Eyre on scaffolding also upset a few hardened bonnetophiles.   For me, a bit of vigorous PC and reconstruction is welcome in the saccharine season of Disneyish princesshood. And Cookson’s conflating of the rather exiguous Sleeping Beauty tale with an odd old folktale of “leaves that hang but never grew” , plus a dash of Hansel and Gretel, is ingenious. So is the odd framing of the whole play, fore and aft , in the plight of the prince having been made amnesiac and depressed until Deilen brings back his lost diary.


Emmings’ softie Percy gradually becomes likeable, although pretty irritating at first: frankly at the point of crisis a jaundiced adult might mutter that the achievement of the bad fairy’s pin is not the only prick in the room. Kezrena James is a fearless likeable Deilen, Stu Goodwin a more than satisfactory drag villainess fairy, the music is jolly and the design by Michael Vale clean and atmospheric. The chorus of comedy aunty frump-fairies (which the principals hastily change to join) is colourfully Pythonesque.


So, much to approve. But theres a problem,  most un-Cookson, of pace. The first half is often worryingly static, people standing talking in straight lines, nobody scampering or energizing matters. The logical flaw of it being not a “true love’s kiss” that does the waking bothered some children at the interval who take magic seriously (Cookson could have left the true-love line out and just said kiss).  The songs also tend to stop the action dead in this first half.  Whats gone wrong?


I dunno.  Maybe it is deliberate, a posh-panto ploy to make the school parties sit still and concentrate for once, before the clapalong whoopee and considerably more exciting wickedness of Act 2. Which does work, and include satisfying emotional development for both the leads and scope for Goodwin to dress up as Bo Peep over his ciré cocktail frock and do amusingly evil things involving sheep and domestic slavery. So I cheered up, and the kids visibly left in a good mood. But I hope they all get to a really noisy panto this year as well. Can’t be too genteel.

box office 0117 987 7877 to 17 January
rating three   3 Meece Rating


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