Princess Beauty sleeps for a 100 years before the Prince she's met in the forest wakes her with a kiss. No jumped-up modern reading is going to sully that story at Richmond, where traditional pantomime is a staple of the season every year: a packed matinée of middle-class moppets and mothers is a perfect cultural indicator, even during a recession.
After a cheery opening dance sequence on a sunlit stage of primary coloured wobbly scenery – on Beauty's 18th birthday – we scroll back to her christening party where the wicked fairy Carabosse (a delightfully malevolent Anita Dobson) lays her curse and the king decrees the burning of the spinning wheels, so that Beauty might not bleed before she's ready.
En route we meet the court jester Jangles (Tim Vine) and a louche nurse (Fenton Gray) who vie, expertly, for our shouts and sympathy. George Wood's script, and Vine's patter, prove that they are properly disreputable thieves of bad gags, and all the audience-baiting is in the right place. Vine is a pantomime natural. He's very fast, and particularly good with the children on the stage. And he's outstanding in the comedy "12 Days of Christmas," with props hectically strewn across the stage including five toilet rolls, seven smelly socks and a cartridge in a bear's knee.
Sophie Isaacs's Beauty and Jon Robyns's Prince will live happily ever after, despite singing soupy pop songs and suffering the worst efforts of Carabosse, who taunts the audience with vocal virtuosity and an evil-hearted version of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", with a chorus of armadillo-crow creatures.
And innocent Beauty is fooled by an old hag at a rogue spinning wheel. A century passes in a flashdance, the rescue mounted by Jangles and the nurse in the unlikely guise of French beauticians, who are also involved in a rather wonderful miracle rejuvenation, hot-gospel number.
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