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Take five talented Drag Queens, mix in a plethora of past and present Divas and you have ‘Drag Divas’, on at The Arts Theatre in the West End.
As Christmas excitement descends, and we wait with bated breath for that elusive snow, Panto season has arrived – oh yet it has! Whether looking for a celebrity filled Cinderella or something more low brow, there is something for everyone in the coming weeks.
Above The Stag theatre, in Victoria, has produced its annual grown-up panto, and this year it is “Sleeping Beauty – One Little Prick”. No kids allowed!
Once again, the intimate space is the perfect venue for such frivolities. We are greeted by Fairy Glowstick, a large Glaswegian Fairy Godmother, played with gusto by Mandy Dassa, who sets the scene – and the tone – of the show in poetic style.
It is 1890, Stratford, East London and Lady Gargoyle, a smashing Dame from Matthew Baldwin, is giving birth to her son and heir, Beauty (the handsome and lithe Matthew Ferdenzi). Life is good for the Downton Abbey-esque lot until, boo-hiss, Fairy Glowstick’s sister, Carabosse (Samantha Ridings – outstanding) turns up to create havoc, and proceeds to unleash a curse on the baby. When he reaches 21, just one little prick will kill him! Being a fairytale, this isn’t the kind of ending we expect, and Fairy Glowstick alters the curse so that everyone will instead fall asleep until Beauty is kissed by a Prince.
Fast forward to 1911, Dr Who style, and Beauty is about to celebrate his 21st Birthday with the help of Josh the Jester, a loveable oaf who’s in love with maid Aggy. They sing, they dance, they roll around the set to numerous musical numbers, belting out stupendous one-liners like “that lad will munch on balls better than hungry hippos” and the customary “it’s behind you!”, “oh no it isn’t”, “boo!”.
This is puerile, unadulterated fun. It is wonderfully stupid – everything you would expect from an adult pantomime. The interaction between the cast is superb and it is evident they all get on brilliantly with slaps, winks, innuendos and general tomfoolery throughout. Even the colourful set deserves a mention with its simple but effective sliding panels.
There are moments that do let the show down. The song 6 to 10 should have been a clever take on Dolly Parton’s 9-5 but the cast is drowned out by the music. However, kudos to Mitchell Lathbury (Josh the Jester) whose voice excels as the show continues; culminating in an excellent “I Am What I Am”.
The groans are as plentiful as the laughs, with numerous cultural references ranging from pop songs/films of yore, Harry Potter, Shakespeare and even Chekhov. And, as expected, the camp level is set to maximum. Yet just when you think it can’t get any more camp, the bubble machine comes on. The child within just can't help but giggle.
It must be said that two people shine especially. Matthew Baldwin’s Lady Gargoyle is a spectacle and he plays the part with due aplomb, with the song “Toucha Touch Me” being a stand-out moment. Matthew’s voice here is splendidly operatic, even when sprawled on the floor with the half naked Prince Edward (the sexy and toned Greg Airey).
Top marks of the night go to Samantha Riding’s Carabosse, whose outfit is as wicked as her personality. This Evil East End Fairy casts more than just as spell over the audience, so much so I thought “how can you boo the baddie when the baddie is so good?” Breaking in and out of song more times than contestants auditioning for X Factor, she captivates and enthrals on each appearance.
All in all, a great evening. It won’t win any prizes in a Mensa challenge but then it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. It is completely sold out for its entire run, but fret not because you can always call to see if there are any returns on the day.
Sleeping Beauty – One Little Prick is at the Above The Stag theatre, Victoria, until 7th January. £16.
No performances Dec 23 - 29; No performance Jan 1
New Year's Eve - Sat 31st Dec - performances 2pm & 6pm
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