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(Posted Dec. 18, 2007)

‘Sleeping Beauty’ panto pure entertainment
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The East End Theatre company’s latest pantomime production “Sleeping Beauty” wrapped up a three day stint at the Orléans Theatre on Sunday before an audience of 60 souls who bravely managed to weather the worst snowstorm in 30 years to be there.

Those people who did manage to make it to the theatre were treated to a traditional English panto with all the standard elements including music,

humour, audience participation, puns, double entendre and, of course, a dastardly villain.

Pantomime as a popular art form dates back to Victorian England where it was a served as a diversion from the drudgery of daily life, especially around Christmas when pantos are traditionally performed.

Some of the more famous pantos are “Cinderella”, “Aladdin” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

“Sleeping Beauty” is East End Theatre’s sixth pantomime following on the heels of last year’s highly popular production of “Dick Whittington and His Cat”. Director Diane Barnett chose the Norman Robbins version of the famous fairy tale.

Robbins is one of the most popular panto playwrights in England as well as one of the most prolific.

The play itself centres around the princess Aurora who has a curse placed on her during her christening party by a wicked fairy named Carabosse. Carabosse wasn’t on the guest list so she cast a spell that on Aurora’s 16th birthday she would prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and die.

Fortunately the good fairy Azuriel, played by East End Theatre veteran Sally Osbourne, is able to cast a counter spell so that Aurora will only fall into a deep sleep and stay that way for 100 years until she’s kissed by a handsome prince.

Robbin’s pantomime version of the fairy tale differs from the other versions out there in that the audience is introduced to Prince Valiant in Act 1 rather than Act 2.

Central to any pantomime are the dame, who is usually played by a man in drag, and the audience prompter who acts as a sort of go between with the audience.

In the East End Theatre version of “Sleeping Beauty”, Kevin Rockel filled out the role of Dame Amonia Goodbody in more ways than one. The exceptionally tall actor towered over the rest of the cast and had an extremely high pitched voice which reminded me of the female characters in Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Playing opposite Rockel’s Dame was Nick St. Francois, who played Tickles the Jester, Dame Goodbody’s reluctant “love” interest. St. Francois kept the crowd involved and his high energy performance kept everything on pace.

The villain Carabosse was aptly played by Debra Boileau who was just plain nasty, not to mention a touch psychotic especially when she started threatening to kill everyone in Entertania along with the princess, who was played by Orleans Young Players alumnus Sarah Benfield who is arguably the hardest working actress in Orléans. This is her third production in the last two months and fourth since she played Cindy in the East End Theatre production of “The Roof Top Guy” and “The Three Hole Punch” in July.

In an effort to thwart Carabosse, Aurora’s parents King Cedric and Queen Semolina, played by Ron Kok and Lili Miller order all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed. But their efforts go for not when Carabosse shows up with her own spinning wheel and tricks Aurora into pricking her finger and falling asleep.

In order to break the spell Tickles and Dame Goodbody volunteer to go into the future and find Prince Valiant who Aurora had briefly met and fallen in love with before she pricked her finger. While they’re gone, Azuriel casts a spell so that the rest of the kingdom will fall asleep until Tickles and Dame Goodbody return.

In the end Carabosse is killed by Prince Valiant, played by Elizabeth Fiander, who kisses Aurora to break the spell and everyone lives happily ever after.

It should be noted that the principle boy in pantos is traditionally played by a girl, usually wearing high heels and fish net stockings.

Like all traditional pantos, “Sleeping Beauty” is riddled with racy humour and local references to things like the Senate, Ottawa City Council and Larry O’Brien. At one point Dame Goodbody asks Tickles if he’s ever hunted bear, to which Tickles replies “No, but I’ve hunted in my underwear”.

There was also songs galore, dancing, and plenty of chances to boo, hiss, cheer and shout. Audience participation is not only encouraged in panto, it’s an integral part of the whole experience.

Some of the more memorable numbers were Dame Goodbody’s rendition of “Seven Day Fool” by Julie Black; “For Once in my Life” and “I’m a Believer” sung by Prince Valiant and Valiant and Aurora’s duet “It Had to be You”.

Filing out the cast of principle players was Marc Barette as the Lord Chamberlain Fuspot; and Jeannette Smith and Cheryl Tofflemire as the royal heralds Dim and Wit.

No East End Theatre panto would be complete without the contribution of the childrens’ chorus which this year was made up of Camille, Colton and Calissa Daly, Kristen and Graham Mainwood, Miranda and Danica Tofflemire, Sarah and Marlie Fitzpatrick, Sarah Conway, Sarah Izzard, Emily Naismith and Tara Miller.

Pantos are also unique in that the musical accompaniment is usually live and once again Pat Messier and Troy Tofflemire did the honours.

Next year, the theatre company plans to tackle another Norman Robbins’ panto when they present the fairy tale “Humpty Dumpty”..

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

 

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