Norwich Theatre Royal has a knack for putting together some of best pantos around. They get that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without some over-the-top, magical fun for families – especially the kids getting their first taste of theatre. This year, their aim is to infuse the classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ with a contemporary spin, and they truly succeed in bringing it to life.
We’ve got all the details in our ‘Sleeping Beauty’ review, and don’t worry – no spoilers here. It’s all good vibes and festive cheer!
Note: We were invited to the press night to see the show so that we could share our experience with our readers. All photos were provided by Norwich Theatre, the featured image was taken by Laura Francis – @dinky_in_norfolk.
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Synopsis of Sleeping Beauty
While true to the classic fairytale, this version of Sleeping Beauty has a fresh twist.
It’s time to celebrate The Princess’s 18th birthday, and her mother, the Queen, has planned a lavish party. Things go awry when the Evil Fairy crashes the party and her curse sends the Princess into an eternal slumber. The only remedy? A kiss from her true love. With the Princess in a deep sleep, the Queen and the Good Fairy must embark on a quest to find the perfect Prince and unravel the meaning of true love.
Cast of Sleeping Beauty at Norwich Theatre Royal
The 2023 Panto at Norwich Theatre Royal has a star-studded cast. You will probably be familiar with at least a few of them.
Joe Tracini made his Norwich Theatre Royal panto debut in 2019 as Buttons in ‘Cinderella’ and stole the spotlight as Tommy the Cat in ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat‘ in 2021. Last year, he rocked the title role in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ and now, he’s written the panto and plays the Good Fairy. Beyond the stage, you might recognize him from TV hits like ‘Hollyoaks,’ ‘Coming of Age,’ and ‘The Great Outdoors.’
Beverley Callard steps into the spotlight as the Evil Fairy in this year’s pantomime. Familiar to many as the iconic Liz McDonald from Coronation Street, where she ruled the Rovers pulling pints with flair. You also might have seen her in the jungle for I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here in 2020.
Millie O’Connell plays the title role of Sleeping Beauty. She is best known for playing Anne Boleyn in the original SIX the Musical. Norwich audiences may also remember her recent performance as Babe (the youngest iteration of Cher) in The Cher Show.
Karl Queensborough, star of Hamilton, is the Prince. Having worked across TV, commercials, short films, radio, and as well as theatre, he brings a varied range of experience to the stage.
Previous visitors to panto at Theatre Royal will be pleased to see that Richard Gauntlett is back again this year. This is his 23rd panto season in Norwich and this time he is playing the Queen. During his illustrious 40-year career, he has done many musicals, operas, and tv shows.
Review of Sleeping Beauty
As we waited for the curtain to rise, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. I couldn’t wait to see this panto, especially after discovering the stellar cast and learning that Joe Tracini penned the script. I was really curious to see how they’d stick to the classic Sleeping Beauty tale but put a modern spin on it. This panto surpassed even my lofty expectations, proving to be an absolute delight.
The cast delivered an absolutely stellar performance that brought the script to life. Joe Tracini and Richard Gauntlett, as anticipated, brought their comedic prowess to the stage, creating moments of uproarious laughter.
However, for me, it was Millie O’Connell who stole the show with her commanding stage presence and powerful voice. Millie’s dance moves added an extra burst of energy, making every scene she was in truly captivating.
Karl Queensborough’s portrayal of the Prince was nothing short of charming. His charismatic performance resonated with the audience, and I loved that he was able to showcase his rapping skills.
Beverly Callard, as the baddie, embraced her character with gusto, injecting a delightful sense of mischief and sass into the production. Plus, she spiced things up with rhymes in her lines.
As the cast had us in stitches, the audience played their part in making this panto a truly interactive experience. There’s always a buzz of audience participation in pantos, but this one took the cake for me. I think this is down to Joe Tracini’s connection with the Norwich audiences that has developed over the last few years.
The slapstick humour had us in stitches, with laughs rolling in like waves. What took it to the next level was their knack for seamlessly blending in local and political jokes. It was a guaranteed laugh-fest!
The cast’s charisma spilled over into a musical extravaganza, appealing to both the little ones and the grown-ups. The chosen songs fit perfectly in the storyline, featuring popular favourites such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Shut Up and Dance”.
Another standout moment was the singalong, led by Joe Tracini and Richard Gauntlett, which might be the most spirited I have been a part of. And let’s not forget the dance numbers – performed with sheer delight by the ensemble, they were a pure joy to watch!
The set worked its magic, whisking us away to the enchanting Land of Best Wishes. The castle looked like it leapt straight out of a fairytale, just like the one I imagined Sleeping Beauty would live in.
The special effects were truly impressive. The bold lighting effects heightened the magic and the green smoke, synonymous with the Evil Fairy’s appearances, added an extra layer of mystique. The life-size dragon was surprisingly realistic and brought an additional dose of drama to the show.
The wild and colourful costumes totally added to the fantasy vibe of the show. And seriously, I couldn’t keep track of how many times Richard Gauntlett changed outfits, but every single one was just plain hilarious.
Amid the dazzling effects, the panto took a poignant turn in the closing moments as Joe Tracini delivered a powerful closing monologue. He summarised some of the lessons learned in the panto and offered words of hope – a timely touch given current world events. It was definitely heartfelt as Joe has been open about his struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder and suicide.
The infectious energy of the cast and audience created a truly magical experience. A little girl seated nearby couldn’t contain her excitement throughout the show, and I shared the sentiment internally. This panto is a delightful escape for all ages, combining laughs with valuable life lessons.
Norwich Theatre has once again hit the mark with a fantastic panto that’s a must-see for everyone. “Sleeping Beauty” is the feel-good fun we’re all craving right now, and it serves as the perfect introduction for your kids to the magic of live theatre. Secure your tickets here now if you haven’t already – this is an experience not to be missed!
Looking ahead we can get excited for next year as Theatre Royal has announced the panto will be Aladdin. You can get early bird Band A – C tickets that are 20% off all performances if booked before 31 January 2024. Get details here.
Sleeping Beauty FAQs
The panto opens at Norwich Theatre Royal Saturday 9 December 2023 and runs until Sunday 7 January 2024.
Tickets range from £10 – £40. You can buy them here.
The show lasts approximately 2 hours 20 minutes (including the 20-minute interval).
Yes, it’s a panto so it’s perfect for kids. For more family-friendly ideas, check out our list of the best things to do in Norwich with kids.
You can have a pre-show meal in the Prelude Restaurant and with every 2 or 3 course adult meal, a child under 12 can enjoy a free main course and dessert!
Before the show and during the interval, snacks and drinks can be purchased at Cafe Royal or the Circle or Stalls Bar.
Norwich Theatre Royal is easy to get to as it is located on Theatre Street (next to the Assembly House) in the Norwich city centre. It’s about a 7 minute walk from the Norwich Bus Station or a 20 minute walk from the Norwich Train Station.
You could use any car park in Norwich city centre, but The Forum and Chantry car parks are the closest ones to Norwich Theatre Royal. Alternatively, you could use the Park & Ride for matinee performances as it’s a short walk from the Norwich Bus Station.