Sunday, 6 December 2020

Stage: Life is but a dream

Pricked: Sleeping Beauty Got Woke
by Tim Benzie and Paul Joseph
dir Tim McArthur
musical director Aaron Clingham
with Lucy Penrose, Robert McNeilly, Grant Cartwright, Fia Houston-Hamilton, Charlie Wood
Royal Vauxhall Tavern • 4.Dec.20-7.Jan.21

The RVT's adult-oriented panto is always one of the funniest shows of the year, and this year's team has outdone itself. There isn't a dull moment in this blissfully silly musical-comedy extravaganza, as it spirals in surreal directions that leave the audience trying to stifle laughter under social distancing rules. And the show even has a trick for that.

Being the story of Sleeping Beauty, the script plays heavily on the idea that much of 2020 feels like a bad dream. Fairy Merryweather (Penrose) is our guide through the mayhem, although even she's not terribly sure what's going on as the gloriously evil Maleffluent (McNeilly) has cursed Princess Aurora (Cartwright) to fall into a deep sleep if she pricks her finger before her 18th birthday. Maleffluent is assisted by a jittery Raven (Wood), who intercepts the thrusting Prince (Houston-Hamilton) as he seeks to rescue Aurora from her castle-tower prison.

Characters break into song at the drop of a hat, with witty twists on iconic pop tracks as well as musical theatre numbers from vintage shows like
The Sound of Music, Annie and The Wiz. There are even two hilarious songs lifted from last summer's Eurovision Song Contest comedy, including Ya Ya Ding Dong, which elicits a riotous bell-ringing number. Show-stoppers include the Raven singing a duet of I'm Like a Bird with a fed-up Prince, plus magnificent nods to Cheryl Cole and Queen. Throw in a bit of tap dancing, lots of references to both Covid and Brexit, rude jokes about Amanda Holden and Lorena Bibbity Bobbity Boo. Flashbacks and dream sequences escalate the sense that this show is utterly out of control, and indeed it goes full-meta at one point.

The performances are excellent across the board, with Houston-Hamilton emerging as the star of the show due to her rambunctious attitude and gifted timing with both comedy and music. McNeilly is also terrific as the astoundingly busty villain of the piece. And Wood has a lot of fun shrieking around the stage as the nervous Raven. Unsurprisingly, the show's lead character is the least colourful, but Cartwright gives it some oomph. The salient question is whether a sleeping princess can give consent to be kissed.

Cleverly, the production team has come up with ways for the audience to be involved, pressing buttons to trigger the call and response elements and teaching us various insinuating hand motions to interact with the characters. The staging is clever and lively, and it's such a fast and hilarious show that it's impossible to catch all the references. It even wraps everything up in a Mariah-hued bow.

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