Sleeping Beauty: A Knight Avenger’s Tale (Comedy Theatre) – theatre review

Dazzlingly frocked up, the seemingly ageless Rhonda Burchmore sizzles as the dastardly Carabosse in the delicious pantomime Sleeping Beauty, A Knight Avenger’s Tale. At one point she literally soars above the audience belting out Cher’s 1989 hit “If I Could Turn Back Time”. That’s one of several popular numbers that punctuate a familiar story with a thoroughly modern twist.

Photo: Robert Catto

At various junctures the production includes a delightful classroom setting, and a cake making exercise during which three performers engage in a series of escalating tongue-twisters. There are also contemporary references to everyone from Dr Chris Brown to Donald Trump. Dr Who’s Tardis also works its way into the script as does a four-strong rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, re-engineered as “The Twelve Days of Winter”, complete with five toilet rolls and Super Soakers.

While Burchmore’s scowling and goading of the audience (who are encouraged to “boo” her) is undoubtedly the highlight, the biggest star of the show and the most memorable performer is the hilarious Kev Orkian. One of the UK’s finest entertainers, his sense of comic timing and delivery is as magnificent as anyone I’ve seen on stage over more than five decades. Simply brilliant! He plays the king’s go-to guy, Silly Billy. Poor Billy becomes thoroughly tongue-tied as he tries to ask the princess for her hand in marriage. Yes, I know that wasn’t in the original story, but it’s one of a number of deviations here.

This is a production with many high points. It’s engaging and entertaining throughout its two hours plus running time – with no shortage of audience involvement.

Plaudits to the writer Terry Morrison. He began his career creating comedy sketches with legendary duo Hale & Pace.

Photo: Robert Catto

Leads Embla Bishop as Sleeping Beauty and Daniel Milne as Prince Valiant are both vocally strong. Melissa Tkautz is cast as The Good Fairy. Frazer Hines is King Louis and Katrina Retallick plays the nanny who brought up the princess. Cameron Taylor is memorable as Carabosse’s evil hunchbacked henchman.

Director and executive producer Bonnie Lythgoe has really hit the mark with a panto of great note. Its unbridled enthusiasm is pitched at littlies and biggies alike. Sleeping Beauty, A Knight Avenger’s Tale is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until 8 July 2018, before moving to Sydney’s State Theatre from 13 – 22 July. Then watch out for Jack and the Beanstalk next year.

Alex First

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