Sleeping Beauty is no snoozefest as Durham Gala panto returns

It’s all change at Durham’s Gala Theatre as this year’s panto kicks off.

Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley, for so long a fixture of the annual production, are gone and the show is in new hands, with a script by Gary Kitching and Rachel Glover taking over as director.

That’s good news for the poor people of much-maligned Spennymoor – but how do the new brooms compare to the old guard?

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Pretty well, thankfully.

The script is a decent one, though with possibly a couple too many musical numbers, and the new line-up backstage perhaps allows the rest of the cast a little more of the spotlight,

While Zoe Lambert’s Evil Witch Karen may not quite chew the scenery as thoroughly as Armstrong, she certainly gets the youngsters in the crowd going and there are some strong voices in this year’s ensemble, especially Chloe Jane Millar as Princess Briar Rose.

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She’s ably supported by Steve Byron’s Nanny Fartoften and Jacob Anderton as King Archibald of Durham-ion, while Jude Nelson really shines as the princess’ loyal dog Sammy.

Benjamin Storey doesn’t get a huge amount to do as Prince Chad of Middles-boroughly – though he does have his own big number - but in the age of #metoo, it’s nice to see a script that doesn’t rely on some twerp in tights just turning up unannounced to save the day.

This year's Gala panto cast
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Without giving too much away, there’s a nice twist on the original story, and the revived Briar Rose gets to take the lead in ensuring the villain gets her just desserts.

Only in the obligatory slapstick scene is the absence of the former team really noticeable. Hartley is a genuinely talented physical comedian, able to sell a pratfall with absolute conviction, and while the new guys try hard, it all feels a bit choreographed.

The really good news is that its not quite ALL change this year.

Local lass Lauren Waine is back and she’s fab, anchoring the show with real charm and verve as Hester the Jester. She’s clearly having a ball and the audience can’t help but respond.

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She also gets to put Mariah to shame with the closing number.

Four-year-old Benjamin, making his panto debut, adored every second.

You will too.

Sleeping Beauty is at the Gala until January 8.