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REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty at Durham Gala

Sleeping Beauty

Durham Gala

Wednesday 23 November - Sunday 8 January 2022

Written by Gary Kitching

Directed by Rachel Glover

Panto season is here again. A chance for families to enjoy a live show together. Durham Gala’s show has a new team this year and they have created a show that is both safe and has plenty for the family to enjoy.

There are a number of classic panto moments - a messy scene and some community singing to name but two. But this show is not afraid to mix things up a bit. The shout outs taking place as part of the guest list to the Princess’s birthday party is a nice touch. And then there are the flying badgers!

Gary Kitching has written a panto that likes to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty with elements of panto thrown in rather than having a generic panto with the story occasionally mentioned. This means that the little ones will have more of a clue what is going on.

The show opens with Lauren Waine making friends with the audience as Hester The Jester. Lauren is blessed with being a funny comic and being able to get the kids onside. She is supported on the comedy side by Jacob Anderton as the King who creates experimental flavoured ice cream. His ice cream exploits give the show an opportunity for a messy scene which was a rare deviation from the main story.

We need a baddie to boo at and Zoe Lambert’s arrival as The Evil Witch Karen gives the show a chance to have another dig at Disney and their lawyers. These stories existed before Disney made films and copyrighted various elements of them. It is rare for a panto to actually point this out. The show takes advantage of the layout of the Gala theatre and the cast will occasionally appear from one the entry points to the stalls. I hope those in the circle are able to follow such events too. Zoe often makes direct reference to the audience smashing the fourth wall.

The Evil Witch puts a spell on the King’s newborn daughter as a result of not being invited to a party. The show isn’t afraid to update a few plot points and hence it is a rose that will prick the Princess on her 16th birthday rather than a splinter on a spinning wheel. After all - who has a spinning wheel these days?

Fast forward nearly 16 years and Chloe Jane Millar appears as Princess Briar Rose - literally the only Rose in the kingdom as the King has ordered the destruction of all roses since the curse was set. She is joined by Jude Nelson as the energetic loyal Sammie the Dog, who likes chasing squirrels. Rose is looked after by Nanny Fartoften who, surprisingly enough, gives Steve Byron a chance to blow off some wind. Heading over to meet Rose on her 16th birthday is the egocentric Prince Chad (Benjamin Storey) who only loves himself. Nanny and the Prince help to add to the comedy side of the show.

Supporting all of the principal cast are a hardworking  ensemble who need to be very quick in changing costumes as they appear as guards one minute and the Prince’s entourage the next. James Carson, Rebecca Cunningham, Ebonie Fletcher, Olivia Jones, Eleanor Monaghan and Harvey Morris are the glue that keep the show going.

The second act was, in my opinion, much better than the first. The characters were going down well with the audience as the pace picked up. The panto stepped up a gear.

There is a live band on the circle of the venue under musical director Joshua Tarrier. Each of the principals gets a song, for example, Prince Chad gets to sing “I’m Beautiful” to James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful and Nanny points out the the Children Are Our Future. At least the songs fitted the characters rather than just being recent hits stuck in due to the young audience’s familiarity with them. 

This is a different Sleeping Beauty. It feels modern without being overly woke. There are powerful female characters without making a big deal of it. There are no inappropriate moments (beyond a few fart jokes) that make you cringe. It is warm, friendly and safe for the children. You might think all pantos are like that - trust me there is at least one in the North East that will cross the line, repeatedly, if past performances are anything to go by.


Review: Stephen Oliver


Cast & Creatives:

Hester the Jester – Lauren Waine

Briar Rose – Chloe Jane Millar

Sammie the Dog – Jude Nelson

Nanny Fartoften – Steve Byron

Evil Witch Karen – Zoe Lambert

King Archibald of Durham-ion – Jacob Anderton

Prince Chad of Middles-boroughly – Benjamin Storey

Ensemble – James Carson, Rebecca Cunningham, Ebonie Fletcher, Olivia Jones, Eleanor Monaghan and Harvey Morris

BSL Interpreter – Caroline Ryan

Musical Director – Joshua Tarrier

Choreographer – Helen West

Costume Designer – Emily Baxendale

Lighting Designer - Elliot Nelson

Sound Designer - Connor Thompson


There will be British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performances on Saturday 3 December, 1pm, Wednesday 4 January, 6pm (also captioned) and Tuesday 13 December, 7pm as well as a relaxed performance on Friday 9 December, 1pm.

Approximate running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including interval


Tickets are priced from £7, with family discounts available, and can be purchased by calling the theatre’s Box Office on 03000 266 600 or online at

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