Winchester Theatre Royal: Sleeping Beauty – The Pantomime

I’ve never been a massive fan of pantomimes. I was the child who would sit there scowling whilst my parents said all of the ‘he’s behind you’ stuff. But when I saw that my local theatre was doing Sleeping Beauty this year, of course I was interested.

And then I saw how gorgeous the poster and that was it, I bought a ticket. Shoutout to Kimberley who accompanied me, and endured the torture of sitting behind 5 rows of hyperactive primary school kids…

Sleeping Beauty’s opening night was on the 9th December at Winchester Theatre Royal.

The story followed Disney’s 1959 film rather closely. The princess was called ‘Aurora’ and the bad fairy was angry at not receiving an invite to celebrate her birth. Although, they chose to use Carabosse as the name for the evil fairy instead of Maleficent. She cursed Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die at the age of 18. There were three good fairies; the first gave the princess beauty, the second gave her song, and the third repaired the curse by changing it into a sleep of 100 years that could only be broken by true love’s kiss. They even chucked in loose a reference to ‘Once Upon a Dream,’ when Aurora and the prince met in the forest and he thought he was in a dream and said ‘I’ve been here before!’

Of course, it being a pantomime, there were some new characters added in for comedic effect. Joey, the palace jester and Aurora’s best friend, and Nelly, the palace nurse were the main two. Whilst these didn’t add much to the story, they were entertaining and demonstrated the versatility of fairy tales: You can add bits in, move bits around, or take bits out, and you still end up with a recognisable story.

Winchester Theatre Royal Sleeping Beauty
The cast of Sleeping Beauty at the press launch. Image from Winchester Theatre Royal.

The most interesting innovation this pantomime made was throwing in some time travel. The good fairy knew Aurora would need a prince to awaken her 100 years later, so she waved her wand and brought one through time to meet Aurora and fall in love with her. Then, 100 years later, (or rather, after the 20 minute interval) she found the same prince and sent him off to rescue Aurora. Cue chopping through a forest of thorns, Carabosse turning into a dragon and being defeated regardless, and then true love’s kiss conquering all. This couple really went to town with the kiss thing; I think there were four or five in total! Y’know, just to make sure she’s properly awake.

Winchester Theatre Royal Sleeping Beauty
Carabosse’s spell book. Image from Winchester Theatre Royal.

Aside from the story, the costumes, music, and dance routines were fantastic, making the show enjoyable for all ages. All in all, this was a playful and enjoyable version of Sleeping Beauty, for those familiar with the tale and those coming to it new. The cast were full of energy and clearly cared about the performance, and this enthusiasm translated wonderfully to the audience. Despite my dislike of pantomimes, I found that once I’d gotten used to the cheesiness I was completely invested in the story. It was a fun night out, and a great escape from work for a little while. Even if seeing it was research for my dissertation — his definitely counts as the good kind of research!

What fairy tale-based pantomimes are on near you this Christmas? Will you be going to see any of them?

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Amelia Starling is a writer, editor, and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and currently lives in Japan and works as an English teacher. She is also a content editor for Folklore Thursday. Folklore-wise, she's particularly interested in the selkies, witches, and spinning wheels. In her spare time she enjoys travelling, photography, and attempting to play guitar.

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3 comments

  1. Yes, pantomimes do have those stock roles. But there can be other characters too or sometimes one of them is missing or blended with another character. For example, in the Sleeping Beauty pantomime I saw Carabosse fitted the role of Bad Fairy and Demon King. Also, the transformation scene was a natural part of the story induced by Aurora's sleep. Occasionally you get theatres who put on pantomimes during the summer holidays, but not many. At Christmas time however, it's expected that every theatre will have a pantomime. It's interesting how things like this impact our culture so much.

  2. I guess it is predominantly a British thing, I have no idea why though. Peter Pan is a popular panto, as is Aladdin and Cinderella. Sometimes Jack & the Beanstalk also. They're the main ones, which is another reason why I was so interested to see a Sleeping Beauty panto!

  3. Y'know, we don't really have pantomimes here in the US. The only reason we really know about the British pantomime tradition is because the story of Peter Pan is so popular over here

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