Eyes twinkling with excitement…

Sleeping Beauty – Dream On at Chickenshed

Sleeping Beauty – Dream On is a modern musical version of the Grimm fairytale: a wonderful piece of theatre, a charming tale beautifully told…and as Christmas stories go, this will totally pull on your heart strings and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. At the Chickenshed Theatre. 

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Most of us will be familiar with the Grimm’s classic fairytale, Sleeping Beauty – but Chickenshed’s musical version offers a modern equivalent. For starters, Beauty is a brat. However, she’s also handy in a plumbing crisis, thanks to the gifts of virtue bestowed on her by her flamboyant godmothers and godfathers when she was a baby. Unfortunately, Beauty was also cursed by a rather bitter cross-dresser… sorry, I mean witch. Myrtle the Terrible, aka Bad Fairy Aunt, warns that on Beauty’s sixteenth birthday she will prick her finger and DIE (duh duh duuuuuuh!)… 

In a bid to save Beauty from such fate, her extended family do everything in their power to dispel the curse but – at such short notice – they can only swap death for a century of sleep should she cut her finger and draw blood. Despite her over-protective parents hiding every sharp object in sight for sixteen years, her finger eventually finds a spinning needle and Beauty falls into a long sleep full of psychedelic and time-travelling dreams, designed by her conscience in order to help her learn life’s lessons and subsequently break the curse. A comatosed Beauty travels back in time to the 1970s where her mother is a wannabe punk-princess and her father is a spineless flower-power tree-hugger. Will Beauty’s meddling result in her awakening… or her undoing? In case you’re wondering, there’s no prince in this one. No kiss. Coming to think of it, I can’t actually figure out how she wakes up… Needless to say, the plot is a little confusing.

Chickenshed Theatre’s belief that everyone has the right to education is truly represented in this fun and lively production of Sleeping Beauty – Dream On. The cast comprises of 650 children from all social and economical backgrounds and abilities. By focusing on nurturing the creativity of those individuals who are perhaps excluded from mainstream educational settings, and by encouraging artistic pursuits in those who have been marginalised based on their disability, the theatre’s work not only celebrates diversity but it also improves access; making theatre open to all – a truly commendable mission. This production is the culmination of hard work, passion, and (no doubt) patience. It mirrors Chickenshed’s commitment to and care for the young people it works with. The piece embraces the strongest sense of artistic integrity and the production values are impressive.

I’m not the naturally maternal type, but I fell in love with the children on that stage: from the back of the stalls, I could see their eyes twinkling with excitement. Not only are they totally adorable, but the young cast demonstrates breathtaking and diverse talent. Effortlessly guided and supported by the professional actors, the children add an extra and much-needed dynamic to the performance. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d hate the scenes with a stage full of “stage-school-esque” children – but I stand corrected. I enjoyed their involvement far more than the professional scenes that focused on the narrative of the story.

I don’t want to dwell on the flaws – mainly because one shouldn’t cast judgement on a theatre that does so much good by offering special and even life-changing opportunities to socially excluded young people. But to prove that I do have my “constructive criticism” hat on and so it’s noted for the record: some of the acting (by the professional cast) is not to the highest standard, and the flow of the story is not always easy to follow. But all in all, this is a wonderful piece of theatre: a charming tale beautifully told. And, as Christmas stories go, this will pull on your heart strings and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. 

Jo Collins’ music is fantastically orchestrated: the musical score contains magically moving melodies and totally toe-tapping tunes. Let’s put it this way; I would buy the soundtrack. I would even go so far as to say that the music is as good as the musicals in the West End.

Accepting this for what it is, Sleeping Beauty is a brilliant show. Children in the audience were practically hypnotised with wonder, and mums and dads were laughing along and marvelling in awe too. For those in the middle – neither a young pup or with child – it’s still an enjoyable, heart-warming evening. For that reason, this show needs recognition – go see it and show your support to the hundreds of children that have poured their heart into the performance.

Date reviewed: Thursday 6th December 2012
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