Storming performances from acclaimed EastEnders soap actor Gillian Wright and children’s television legend Derek Griffiths, combined with comedy gold from much-loved panto favourites Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley, helped make this year’s Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime a huge success.
Sleeping Beauty, which finished its five-week run at the weekend, not only proved popular with the 59,500 theatre-goers who saw the show but also garnered rave reviews, including a five-star recommendation from theatre ‘bible’ The Stage which listed it as one of its 5-star pantomimes in its round-up of Best Shows of 2017.
And even as the performers were still presenting their show, the box office was experiencing record sales for the theatre’s next panto, Aladdin, with more than 12,400 tickets sold already.
Sleeping Beauty, which was written and directed by Richard Gauntlett, took audiences back in time to the turn of the last century in a grand country house where Coronation Street actor and Play School presenter Derek Griffiths used his magical powers as Chortwood the butler to ward off evil Aunt Vipera, played by EastEnders ‘Jean Slater’ Gillian Wright. Derek Griffiths was making a return to the Norwich stage having delighted panto-goers 12 years ago when he appeared in the theatre’s 2005-2006 Peter Pan as Captain Hook.
In addition to writing and directing, Richard Gauntlett teamed up with talented Norfolk-based comedy actor and entertainer Ben Langley for the fourth year running to play the dame and her hapless son, Mrs Midges and Muddles. The cast was completed by Elizabeth Carter as ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Patience Midges and Glenn Adamson as the ‘Prince’ Timothy Norbridge, with Stephen Godward as Lord Teddy of Norbridge Abbey.
The supporting ensemble of eight fielded a strong local contingent with Rhiannon Hopkins from Norwich, Jack Ireland from Mattishall, Rachel Davey from Lowestoft, and Joe Press, from Wroxham (who was returning for his second consecutive year). Amy Munden, from last year’s ensemble, returned as dance captain.
The Norwich cityscape also featured in the stunning backdrops and scenery which were once again provided by Lowestoft-based Scenic Projects, and the crowd-delighting action ranged from flying bell-ringing monks, huge inflatable brambles and a snake, dancing skeletons, a time travel machine which paid homage to Dr Who, and mayhem amongst the fountains in the Norbridge Abbey water gardens.
The Stage’s reviewer, Jackie Montague described it as “pitch perfect” and “exceptional” with the casting of Derek Griffiths as the narrator/butler “a stroke of genius”.
Distinguished theatre writer Anne Morley-Priestman also gave it five stars, particularly noting its “snappy choreography” and highlighting the water-garden sequence, ultra-violet light skeletons and the thicket of brambles which enclosed the castle as being favourite scenes.
A strong review came from Stacia Briggs for the EDP and Evenings News. She called it “A spellbinding show packed with magic, mayhem, music and dance”. Rebekah Chilvers, reviewing for the Lynn News, said it was “the perfect antidote to winter blues” and Lu Greer for The Reviews Hub said of Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley “In this pairing, everything that can be wonderful about panto is evident”.
With many performances, particularly pre-Christmas, being completely sold out, the run generated a record-breaking £1,115,590 in ticket sales.
In addition, the theatre’s front of house team also worked flat out to ensure audiences enjoyed the full visitor experience, selling 19,463 tubs of ice-cream, 5334 packets of sweets, 3458 programmes and 5109 pieces of merchandise.
Bucket-collections for the theatre’s Christmas 2017 Appeal, which will enable it to deliver a new creative programme working with people living with dementia in Norfolk, including carers and families, raised more than £16,000 and is continuing to run online for those who would like to donate.
Jane Walsh, the panto’s executive producer, said: “Sleeping Beauty has proved a great success with our audiences and critics again this year and our industry publication The Stage rated it as among the top ten pantomimes in the country – a great accolade.
“Our lovely cast including Derek Griffiths and Gillian Wright gave us brilliant performances in a heady mix of comedy, music and audience participation. The very stylish set came from Scenic Projects in Lowestoft and the costumes from our own wardrobe team led by Kirsteen Wythe all got mentions in our excellent reviews.
“Preparations are well under way for our next pantomime Aladdin with ticket sales already at record levels and our comedy gold duo Richard Gauntlett and Ben Langley confirmed to return.”
Aladdin runs from December 12, 2018, to January 13, 2019. Buy tickets now at Norwich Theatre Royal.