So it’s not high art and the song-and-dance routines sometimes rely more on enthusiasm than on professional polish but hey! It’s The Sleeping Beauty, not Hamlet. It’s fun and it’s silly, and that’s why it works.
Fairytales have traditionally been popular fare in children’s theatre, and with good reason. Brisbane Children’s Arts Theatre’s latest production of The Sleeping Beauty has played to sell-out audiences. Full of fun and silliness, the kids love it and that’s what this kind of production is all about.
Over-the-top characters, audience interaction and general silliness are at the centre of this show a sure sign that director Sally Daly understands what her young audience wants and can deliver. The best evidence of this must come from the overwhelming responses from the audience, who sang, clapped, screamed and cheered their way through the first act, were reluctant to leave the theatre at Interval and impatient to go back in to do it all again.
Enthusiasm tends to rate higher than skill, but the occasional wobbly singing voice or awkward dance step can be overlooked for the fact that it’s the enthusiasm, not the singing, that makes the production work. The same can be said for set and props which are colourful, if modest but again, secondary to the fun and games created by the energetic cast.
The storyline follows the well-known traditional fairytale with a few humorous changes and additional characters who add to the fun. When King Robert (John Hills) and Queen Cynthia (played obnoxiously well by Bianca Peltola) fail to invite bad fairy Maultash (Shane Daly) to Princess Rose’s christening, the fairy casts a spell to kill the princess on her 16th birthday. Fortunately for the King and Queen, the three good fairies, Blanche (Susan O’Toole), Glynis (Natalie Mead) and Roxy (Francesca Gasteen), are on hand to save the day.
Standout performances came from the perfectly measured performance of cross-dressing John Stibbard as Nurse Hallowpenny and from Francesca Gasteen whose gorgeous singing voice and endearingly goofy Roxy soon made her a favourite with the kids. Two equally solid performances were given by the young romantic leads Princess Rose (Bree Hawkins) and Crispin/Prince Claude (Al Brennan), who not only worked well together but also proved competent individually as well.
And consistently entertaining as an ensemble are the three good fairies, Blanche, Glynis and Roxy, whose frequent asides to the audience in traditional over-the-top panto fashion ensured that the attention of the young audience was always cheerfully engaged.
While John Stibbard’s turn as Nurse Hallowpenny was an immediate hit with the audience, the cross-dressing approach seemed not to work as well for villainous fairy Maultash (Shane Daly) who failed to inspire any significant response from the audience until well into the second act. The attempt at humour, casting a male in a female role, may have confused people, who were unsure whether to laugh or to respond with the traditional boo and hiss.
Productions such as this offer valuable and enjoyable opportunities for introducing children to the world of theatre, in a time where sitting in a movie cinema for an hour-and-a-half is as close to the theatre experience as most kids get. The key factor in the success of any kind of children’s production will always lie in its ability to entertain, not educate, and if the smiling faces of the hundred or so children leaving the Arts Theatre are anything to go by, then this production must surely be judged a success.