We’ve got a couple of proper names at the Churchill this year. There’s the always good value Bonnie Langford and eveyone’s favourite Joseph, Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be an outstanding overall cast and certainly the best I can recall.
Claudillea Holloway has a beaming smile and happy face. She looks so genuinely happy to be the princess and her voice is quite beautiful, which she gets to show off well. As her mum, Queen Voluptua, Joelle Moses exudes a regal authority and knocks out some terrific notes of her own. She’s been Motormouth Maybelle in a production of Hairspray and I can totally see her owning that part.
Lloyd Hollett as Muddles is our comic guide to proceedings. I’ve heard a lot of panto jokes over the years, but he really made me laugh. He also quickly built a rapport with the audience, slipping in a few jokes for the grown-ups along the way. But the clever thing about this production is that it worked so effortlessly on both adult and child levels. Hollett also has a quite outstanding line in patter songs which are not only funny but amazing feats of memory and brilliant performance technique. In the first of these he list the names of all the comics who have inspired him, to the tune of the Can Can. Almost everyone gets a mention, from Jo Brand to Tony Hancock. I’d have loved it even more if he could have squeezed in a name check for Bromley’s own Tom Allen!
Lee Mead has the toughest job of the night. – as do all romantic male leads in pantos. All that’s required of a panto prince is to be in love with the princess. He does, though, manage to have fun with his history of playing Joseph and delivers some great song and dance numbers.
Myra Dubois is the baddie in this production, as Carabosse, the wicked fairy who causes the princess to fall into her deep sleep from which our prince must awaken her. Dubois makes the best panto baddie I’ve seen, in a succession of frocks, gowns and put-downs. Pantos love to stick in carefully rehearsed ‘mistakes’ and consequent corpsing by the cast, but there was a instant with Dubois when I’m not sure if we didn’t see a real moment. Either way, it brought the house down.
As the good fairy Lilac Bonnie Langford goes well beyond the usual restrictions of the role (typically panto fairies come on in a flash and are off thirty seconds later having delivered a plot update). Bonnie is so twinkly and sparkly that I swear she would twinkle and sparkle just as much even if her costume wasn’t covered in spangles and sequins. She also gets to dance and sing – which is where she excels. When Bonnie is on the stage there’s no doubt she’s the star.
Thank goodness we also get a real live band in the pit. There’s just three of them but they fill the place with sound. Their balance with the singers was a little off at times, making the vocals hard to hear, but that maybe just me as it improved during the show, which is probably just me becoming attuned to the sound.
Thanks to Covid we have no children in the cast. Neither are any dragged up on stage from the audience in the final front-of-cloth scene. For me these are plus points. It also means we get more stage time from the principals, which with this cast is all to the good.
Sleeping Beauty is that the Churchill Theatre Bromley until 2 January 2022.