Review by Sam Waite
‘Tis the season to be… smutty, apparently! Fledgling theatre company He’s Behind You! (oh no he… you know how this goes) have joined the adult panto scene with a gay romp (in the happy way… and also the homosexual way) through the tropes and traditions we hold near and dear to our shrivelled little hearts, and which inflate them to three times their size every holiday season. Making a marvellous mockery of the Charing Cross Theatre, they present their filthy festive delight, Sleeping Beauty Takes a Prick!
A century ago, in the noble and accepting land of Slutvia, fairy godmother Daisy introduces us to the Slutish townsfolk, and their royal family. Queen Gertrude has just given birth to Prince Arriola (Arry, to his friends) and pushed the dastardly Prince Camembert further down the line of succession, resulting in a spell promising death before the child’s 21st birthday. Daisy’s alteration of the curse it so that the prince will only die when a prick is taken within his backside, with the sound enough logic that, “No one is going to bugger a baby!” and so 21 years of curbing young Arry’s boy-hungry desires begins.
Subtlety is not something the Slutvian people seem to be known for, but then neither of the scripts of pantomimes. Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, co-authors of such family-unfriendly festive fare as Mother Goose Cracks One Out and Ghosted: Another F***ing Christmas Carol, show a great deal of skill with the absurd and over-the-top antics such shows call for. Their script finds the cast making countless double-entendres, and perhaps as many single-entendres to fill the gaps (oi, oi!) while using the inevitable century of slumber between acts to make the topical references a panto throws in for the adults in the crowd… which, of course, is everyone in this case, allowing for the jokes to really shine without being rushed aside for another sight gag. (Although yes, there are plenty of those)
Bradfield also provides songs for the occasion, some more original than others and some being much more overt homages/straight up rip-offs, as is the panto way. A particularly funny musical theatre mash-up in the second act finds My Fair Lady’s racetrack number merged with a Cats variant about the variety of hats on other to the upper classes for such events. Group numbers like “Welcome to Slutvia” and the romance-centred (or something slightly more carnal) “Meet Me In The Garden” show off just how well the cast work together, and how capable the writers and director are of keeping track of their small ensemble’s positions and motives.
A panto is, one might argue, (it’s me, I’m one) nothing without its dame, a role taken here by Matthew Baldwin’s hilariously hard-up Queen Gertrude. Baldwin’s comedic chops are on full display and his rapport with the audience is snarky and immediately charming – Quick on his feet, he replied with a droll, “Critics,” and an eye roll when an audience member shouted out that Gertrude ought to do something unsavoury to the royal horse. Matching Baldwin’s energy as a campy, conniving villain is Chris Lane’s Camembert, leaning hard into his bottom-focused schemes and into the happily homosexual tone of both the role and the production.
Matthew Gent (recently a cover at the Kit Kat Club) and Nikki Biddington (of Ghosted) play the father-daughter duo of Josef and Myrtle, as well as the father-daughter duo of their descendants, Jonas and Maria. The two have warm, easy chemistry with their respective love interests – Her Majesty for both of Gent’s characters, and Daisy for saucy sapphic Maria – and Biddington does a fabulous job of building a connection to the audience (“Hey, girl!” she has the crowd shouting on her entrances) and of reaffirming that a century has passed during intermission. For her part, Jordan Stamatiadas is perky and upbeat as fairy godmother Daisy, and makes fine use of her wand for some decidedly Sluttish moments of comedy.
The Crown Prince and the alien who becomes his undoing (please, don’t question it, it’s silly on stage too) are portrayed by Tom Mann and Myles Hart, and while the two aren’t given a big enough opportunity to establish a deeper chemistry, their immediate attraction and over the top lusting is hilarious from the moment Hart’s Zupp lands on earth. A long-time company member at The Book of Mormon, Hart has a real knack for bawdy and brash comedy, finding a heart at the centre of the walking stereotype that is chaps-adorned Zupp, and Mann matches his flamboyance by adding a touch of naivete (or maybe just stupidity) alongside Arry’s uncontrollable touch of campness.
Director Andrew Beckett shows an obvious understanding for the intricacies (and complete lack thereof) of traditional pantomimes, encouraging a broad and audacious performance from each of his cast members. Moving his cast elegantly around David Shields’ collection of charming and deliberately cartoonish sets, he takes every opportunity to lean into not only the ridiculousness, but also the sheer and joyous queerness of the material. Sandy Lloyd and Robert Draper lean just as hard into both elements, arraying the Queen and the alien visitor in particularly outlandish wardrobes – Gertrude is fabulously on-theme even in her undergarments, while a crack about Zupp’s outfits being from Camden Market rings entirely true when he enters in little more than shiny briefs and a leather harness.
This holiday season, you may be looking for a show to take the family to – something sweet and wholesome that you can all smile and take in the warmth of. Well, ladies, gentlemen, and nonbinaries (thanks for your inclusiveness, Queen Gertrude!) I am so pleased to inform you that this… is most definitely not that show. Outstanding, overblown and completely outlandish, the opportunity to visit Slutvia is one to grasp with both hands. True, the requisite romantic finale suffers slightly from a lack of time shared with our Prince and his extraterrestrial love, but Sleeping Beauty Takes a Prick is such silly, seductive fun that it’s hard to care.
Sleeping Beauty Takes a Prick plays at the Charing Cross Theatre until January 13th
For tickets and information visit https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/sleeping-beauty
Photos by Danny Kaan, except the first image which is by Oli Sones