It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed one of the many shows which youth theatre Chickenshed put out during the pandemic. In fact, their last released piece came out in May so apologies to them for getting to this so late on. As with some of their previously released pieces it’s one of their boldly reinvented Christmas shows, this time from 2012. It is a reworking of a well know fairy tale called Sleeping Beauty – Dream On written and directed by Louise Perry and featuring the usual megacast as well as dozens of creatives keeping the inclusive ethos of the company high on the agenda.
So that made the beginning somewhat unusual in that the show opens with just a couple of performers (plus the customary fully integrated signers) bantering away about the show that is about to happen. If you’ve seen Chickenshed before then this is rather disarming. Where are the expected hordes? Well, not far away as it turns out as the stage soon starts to fill with participants – I’m still amazed by how it is all co-ordinated. Somewhere in the pleasingly chaotic melee the traditional story starts to emerge. A new baby is born to the king and queen and called Beauty. Her godparents bestow on her gifts such as music, agility, languages and, er, plumbing. But one godparent Myrtle has been forgotten and…. well, you already know how it goes. Fast forward sixteen years and Beauty is a pupil at Elphinstone which significantly nods to the ethos of a certain other famous school created by J.K.Rowling. Her godparents have morphed into the teachers and are keeping an eye on her, but Mytle gets through anyway and tragedy ensues. Head teacher Mrs Cartwright decides that there’s only one way out of the problem to turn back time and change history.
The second half is an elongated departure from the original as Beauty encounters her own parents who attended the same school but back in the 1970s. In a scenario that borrows rather heavily from Back To the Future Beauty has to make certain that punk mum gets together with hippie dad to ensure that she even comes into existence. And Myrtle is back on the scene to try and scotch that happening by introducing her son Byrtle into the mix. Unlike Mr Plato the philosophy teacher it’s best to give up trying to make logical sense of it all and just enjoy the ride. Some of the jokes at the expense of the era seem over contrived – the king’s name is Russell simply so the words of the classic disco dance “The Hustle” can be rewritten – but that’s all in the spirit of panto which this show both is and isn’t. Certainly, some of the other traditional aspects are given short shrift; Beauty is about as far from the traditional Disney princess as it is possible to be (hurrah!)
Chickenshed employ their usual rotation system for the youngsters appearing on stage although the main roles are consistently allotted. Jasmin Clarke makes a sparky heroine and has the beginnings of a fine voice. Joseph Morton’s Myrtle is less of a traditional pantomime dame and more a drag act who concentrates on getting the boos rather than the laughs. I enjoyed the double act of Charlie Kemp and Ashley Maynard as the good and bad consciences who have a nice line in repartee and there’s a good team effort from the godparents/teachers who keep the mix bubbling along. As the parents, Jojo Morrall and Mark Lees come to life in Act Two though I didn’t really care for Will Laurence’s Byrtle who, even in this type of show, seemed to be overacting for most of the time.
While this isn’t the best Chickenshed show I’ve seen it’s solidly in their tradition of enjoyable Christmas shows which try to do something different by challenging the original material. If nothing else you can sit back and enjoy the sight of so many young performers having a great time in a totally inclusive atmosphere working towards a common goal. This is especially true in the second half where they are palpably having great fun becoming punks and hippies back in the good old days – of course to them it’s all ancient history anyway!
Production photos by Adam Holt, Antonia Jater, Larraine Krantz and John Pridmore
Sleeping Beauty – Dream On is available via Chickenshed’s You Tube channel – click here
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