The Wolverhampton Grand and panto heavy-hitters QDOS have been gradually refining their seasonal offering over recent years, putting on increasingly more confident and seamless bundles of farce and fun as they inevitably cycled through the likes of Gareth Gates, Joe McElderry, Joe Pasquale and even pants stalwart Julian Clary as their A (to Z) list headliners. 

It may seem a trifle glib to assess, and the more priggish of theatregoers out there will likely balk at such deconstruction of panto achievement, per se, but if, as Shrigley quipped, ‘being funny is a serious endeavour’, then being farcically funny, and appealing to an audience of every age range imaginable year in, year out, is positively austere.

But cast off the pretence and ring in the cheer; this year’s Sleeping Beauty sees the Grand and QDOS (along with plenty of plugs for theatre sponsor Arthur Price) hit the sweetest of panto sweet spots yet, and they do so with a fantastic meeting of both local and National goodness.

Starting broad, topping the bill is recent Strictly fave, the ‘lovely’ Debbie McGee, who, as the Fairy Crystal, spends the majority of her time on stage unsurprisingly showing off some shimmies and soft shoe. She’s an earnest, delightful presence throughout, and whilst McGee quite evidently isn’t the most seasoned actress or singer, she brings a bubbly, giggly charm to it all and keeps things buoyant throughout. She’s also as astonishingly limber and sure-footed as when she captivated the Nation with her dance moves last year, so Beauty sees fit to plonk her in plenty of jives, jaunts and choreographed set pieces.

On captivating the Nation, few children’s TV icons are as recognisable (not to mention ageless!) as Sooty and Sweep, who pop up here with help from their current telly counterpart, Richard Cadell. Clearly still adored by young and old alike, the inclusion of the iconic puppet duo and a number of surprisingly effective magic sequences, not to mention Cadell being gamely down for it all, brings a whole new dimension to Wolverhampton’s panto. It’s admirable to see a production not attempting to chase down the same hijinks and tomfoolery with their ‘Muddles’, and this fresh, warmly family-friendly spin is definitely a strike in the Grand’s favour. A mid-first act tribute to Pavarotti may well be the most inspired moment of farcical hilarity you will see in a theatre this year.

It’s not all new, though. Reminding audiences that you can never have too much of a good thing - particularly if it’s local - David Tristram and Gill Jordan’s ‘Doreen Tipton’ returns, this time as ‘Nurse’ Doreen, with NHS cuts, questionable surgical procedures and anatomical faux pas’ all in the firing line of the viral superstar’s lazy yet withering gaze. A returning star from previous years, she remains one of the best things about the Grand panto, and is an injection of local genius and hilarity that enriches the whole thing that bit further.

Watch the brand new promotional trailer for 'Sleeping Beauty' at the Wolverhampton Grand.

Elsewhere, show choreographer Julie Paton steps up from a bit part last year to full blown villainy here as a sultry, belting and wonderfully boo-hiss-able Carabosse, and Ian Adams offers another returning face, continuing to cement himself as the ‘Grand Dame’ of, well, dames. New this time round are fresh faces Bethan Wyn-Davies as doe-eyed-but-little-to-do Princess Beauty, and Oliver Ormson, who brings some real West End gravitas, presence and vocals to his Prince ‘Harry’ (yes, seriously). You’ll catch plenty of subtle choices and beats Ormson takes with the character that make his prince somehow both dashing and heroic, yet with tongue placed firmly in cheek. It’s the best Prince pantoville has seen for some time.

As is to be expected with QDOS, the production values are high, from the simple yet undeniable impact of McGee’s Fairy Crystal swooping over the audience, through to an imposing (if underused) dragon that takes similar flight. The costumes sparkle, the choreography is tight, and there’s plenty of colour, fizz and pop. Be forewarned - you may even get a little wet. There are plenty of quips, jokes and jabs in the script aimed at everything from Trump’s hair to the Black Country and surrounding area (“I know suffering, I’ve been to Dudley” needs to be made into a bumper sticker), and inspired moments of individual madness range from the aforementioned Pavarotti zaniness, to Doreen’s own unique take on the Queen (of the Black Country)’s Speech.

There's even the now-customary number from The Greatest Showman thrown in for good measure, too.

Even with some saucy double entendre and wordplay that occasionally veer towards the naughty (there’s a Shitzu gag in there that even youngsters will easily translate) what’s most confident about Sleeping Beauty is how strictly family-friendly it is on the whole (… careful). It’s not a facsimile of what has come before or what may work well elsewhere. The youthful yet timeless silliness of Sooty and friends, the hilarity and wit of local favourite Doreen, the incomparable dame-ry of Ian Adams, and some musical theatre clout from Ormson and Paton in particular, all dusted off with some glitzy sugary goodness and loveliness from McGee.

There’s method in the madness. Formula to the farce. Sleeping Beauty is, indeed, Wolverhampton Panto fun and spectacle refined down to near perfection. ‘There’s something for everyone’ is as tired a cliché as they come, but nowhere is it more applicable, and if there’s any season fit for hurling such chestnuts around, then it’s panto season, isn’t it?

Oh yes, it is.


Runs 8th December 2018 - 13th January 2019.

Tickets: 01902 42 92 12

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