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Corn Exchange - Sleeping Beauty

29th November 2019 to 4th January 2020

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Snooze and you lose

Panto full of surprises courtesy of Plested & Brown

Sleeping Beauty, at the Corn Exchange, until January 4

There's a new production team at the helm of this year's Corn Exchange pantomime Sleeping Beauty and they have created an absolute cracker of a show, full of festive fun for all the family.

The foyer was beautifully decorated with a huge Christmas tree with chandeliers in the entrance to the auditorium and festoons of drapes with lights glowing inside, creating a magical atmosphere for this spectacular show. The excited youngsters and their parents were in for a real treat.

The panto is wittily written and inventively directed by Plested & Brown, who are no strangers to panto-land, having appeared in many of the Corn Exchange's previous Christmas productions. This high energy production performed by a talented cast is full of wonderful surprises. You simply must go to see them – you won’t be disappointed. The sparkling sets, impressive costumes and lighting are stunning.

Lara Denning is splendid as Fairy Frappuccino who visits Newbury Bottom to bring gifts for the arrival of the new royal princess. Her sister, the deliriously evil Fairy Kruger "no one's ruder" (Katharine Bennett-Fox) casts a curse on the new baby and quickly had the audience booing her and she relished their jeers.

King Arthur-itus (yes it was one of many groan-making puns), played by Nick Read, devises a plan to protect Princess Aurora, a delightful performance by Jay Alexandra Bennett, as long as she avoids pricking her finger on a spinning wheel needle.

Every panto needs a dame and Philip Elvy as Nanny Fanny Adams, wearing the most outlandish costumes, was outstanding and had an excellent rapport with the audience.

Matthew Grace returned for his eighth appearance as Billy Bumpkin, but this year wanted to be known by his own name, which created much hilarity – everyone loved him.

There was strong support from Charlie Bassett Cross and Therese O'Sullivan as the courtier and the company of enthusiastic local youngsters were spot-on. Ben Barrow is the reluctant Prince who breaks the spell and wakes up Aurora.

There was oodles of audience participation, a slosh scene with a very unexpected twist, loads of local references, slick choreography by Holly Hughes and the most exhausting hilarious delivery of the song "if I were not in pantomime this is what I'd be".

Perfect ingredients to start celebrating the Christmas season, oh yes it was!

Book your tickets soon.


Review from Newbury Theatre.

We’re back again in Newbury Bottom but this year’s panto has been written by Plested and Brown and directed by Adam Brown. The show is introduced by Fairy Frappuccino (Lara Denning) who takes us into a rousing song and dance opening of What a Picture from Half a Sixpence, reimagined here as What a Panto. And oh boy, it certainly is.

King Arthur Rightus (Nick Read) – Danny Dyer to a T – announces a royal birth, Princess Aurora, who is about to be christened. Enter Fairy Frap’s wicked sister Fairy Kruger who puts a curse on the Princess which says that she will die on her 21st Birthday. Katherine Bennett-Fox is splendidly evil as Kruger, and seems impervious to the boos she gets from the audience.

Now the King needs a nanny for Aurora, and Nanny Fanny Adams fits the bill. This is Philip Elvy in full dame mode with a sumptuous wardrobe of clothes and a rather scary hairdo. She wastes no time in wading into the audience and selecting a victim to sit on the naughty step. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re in the middle of a row – one or other of the cast may still get you. You’re probably safe in the circle though.

We can’t have a Corn Exchange panto without Billy Bumpkin, and better late than never he appears but tells us he wants to go upmarket and be known as Matt Grace (that name sounds familiar).

We step quickly through Aurora’s first 20 years and find she’s become a vet, and what she does with her thermometers and the rear end of a cow probably isn’t for the squeamish. Jay Alexandra Bennett is the lovely Aurora and tension rises as her 21st birthday approaches. Fairy K reappears, searching for Aurora and singing a song dissing the ‘Common People’ – us. We really hate her now, and even more when she’s rude about Thatcham!

Meanwhile Nanny is trying to get her birthday cake decorated, which for some inexplicable reason involves icing being sloshed down from on high. When they cover the stage with tarpaulins, you know someone’s going to get gunked – my money was on Billy.

Finally, despite warnings from the audience, Aurora does prick her finger on the spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep.

Fuelled by ice cream and sweets, we’re ready for Act 2. But we’re lacking a prince to rescue Aurora. Don’t worry, we get one, and head towards the finale with Aurora, the King, Nanny and Billy singing the song If I Were Not in Pantomime This Is What I’d Be… with their choices of alternative careers becoming increasingly violent and manic. A hilarious end to the proceedings.

With strong, well-differentiated characters, fast action, excellent singing and dancing, and good audience interaction, this boisterous panto ticks all the boxes and is great family entertainment for all ages except the very young. Some of the jokes and double entendres were definitely for the grown-ups, but nothing in excess (if you want the excess, there are some adult-only performances!).

The cast was augmented by six local children from the Corn Exchange’s Young Company. They did a splendid job acting (including Noel, Sandi, Prue and Paul from Bake Off), dancing and singing. A special mention should go to the drunken vicar, but there’s no name-check in the programme – well done, you know who you are.

My co-reviewers thought the best bit was the cow’s bottom scene (Ellie) and the final If I Were… song (Dominic). Their favourite character was Nanny (Ellie) and Billy (Dominic).