Jack Cullen

Stage review

Sleeping Beauty: One Little Prick

Following the roaring success of last winter’s Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves, this year’s gay panto offering from Above The Stag is Sleeping Beauty: One Little Prick.

“Above The Stag” – a peculiar name for a theatre. Purposefully self-deprecating or just shamelessly crass? Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as, say, The Old Vic or The Royal Court, nor does “Above The Stag” bear the megalithic weight of words like Palladium or Criterion. Yet this peculiar loft has a loyal following and consistently manages to sell-out its modest scattering of 50-or-so chairs because its audience know exactly what they’re going to get... Innuendo, camp tomfoolery, cock bulges and naked men who are slimmer than them. “After The Stag Do” might be a better name of venue?

So where better to stage a gay Christmas panto than in the camp and rosy underworld of this bleached-fringe theatre? None of the prams and shopping bags of mainstream pantos and no Victorian pier to throw yourself off during the interval (although there are plenty of old rafters below).

One of the more challenging fairytales to parody, Sleeping Beauty offers less firewood than its neighbouring stories, but writers Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper do a good job of reinventing the boring Disney plot, ornating and orating it with increasingly gay sub-plots and penile trimmings.

As expected, some of the jokes nose-dive before they’ve even registered, whilst others are flatter than Jodie Harsh’s chest, but by Act 2 Bradfield and Hooper start serving up gems, although by that stage the audience’s bulk of middle-aged wisps are quite pissed and mainly just staring speculatively at the hair tone on Matthew Ferzdenzi’s cute behind-thighs, dribbling mulled wine vampirically into their cashmere theatre scarves. Ferzdenzi plays Beauty, the ill-fated gay protagonist who is obsessed with sucking off his servant Josh (Mitchell Lathbury)

The story starts in 1911 (“Just before Downton Abbey”) and finishes up in 2011 at the London Olympics with all the glaringly contrived storyline shoe-horning of a good panto. Both time periods are held together visually by the impossibly sexy body language of Greg Airey who gives good face as Prince Edward – an aristocratic vampire of German-origin who cavorts into the 21st century as a gay slut on a gap year.

The play’s sweetest grapes are offered by Matt Baldwin who plays the great dame - Lady Gargoyle. Whilst any prayers for a Gaga parody aren’t answered (although there’s some cracking crustacean jewelery), we are given a much better monster in exchange. Baldwin’s portrait of a down-and-out, cock-crazed widow is fantastic and cups the balls of the audience so skilfully that he can afford to let some lines crumble into barely-audible glottal stops and the room still explodes with laughter. Imagine meeting Faye Dunaway in Chariots and you’re halfway there.

The fairy in this year’s panto is played by larger-than-Fife actress Mandy Dassa who ambitiously attempts a character that mixes Beth Ditto with Ruth Jones. Whilst some will enjoy her boisterous barmaid chit-chat, I found Fairy Glowstick a bit tiring, but with a more refined brand of confidence and a closer reading of gay culture she could be quite something. Samantha Riding gives a tantalising performance as the wicked fairy whilst Ellie Fiore is witty and pretty in her roles as a housemaid and landlord’s daughter.

All in all, another wonderfully camp riot from ATS and a great kick-start to the festive season, if not an expensive one (tickets are a steep £16 with no concessions for you hard-working gay students).

Two final criticisms: Why can’t we see Greg Airey in pants? And why be so sparing with that whipped cream Josh?

Sleeping Beauty: One Little Prick runs at Above The Stag until 31 December*

*The entire run is sold out, but a trickle of returns are sometimes available on the door – so why not pop along for a pint after work. For younger readers who might not know – The Stag is also a gay pub and is worth a visit if only to experience the soothingly slow bar service and arbitrary 90s pop (Shania Twain anyone?)

More from Jack Cullen