Published: 11:40, 13 December 2011
Review: Sleeping Beauty, Gravesend's Woodville Halls, Monday, December 12
by Alan Watkins
A traditional pantomime is a rarity these days.
Though not if you live within reach of the Woodville Halls where the Imagine Theatre company has evil witches, ghosts, massive dragons, comics and plenty of gunge - all to amuse the children.
There is no worry they will be overseas entertainers who've never come across panto: these are all home-grown, raised on Cinderella and Widow Twanky.
The company is led by a seasoned comedian in Michael Fenton Stevens. He's fresh from six months in the West End in Yes, Prime Minister.
He directs as well as appearing as Nurse Nanny Nora , a cross-dressing essential part of panto.
He soon had the kids (of all ages) roaring with laughter at the traditional cake-making routine with Michael James (Josh the Joker). They left the stage coated in eggs, flour and water, with both of them crashing to the floor as they lost their footing.
The evil lead was a snarling Carabosse (Ellie Chidzoy), lapping up the hisses and boos from the audience - and richly deserving them.
And if men in drag is as much seasonal as punch, Christmas pud and port, so to is a thigh-slapping Prince Valiant (Julia Cave) and Princess Belle (Lauren Harrison) .
The panto kept to the traditional story.
Pretty girl, cursed, pricks finger on poisoned spinning wheel, and sleeps for 100 years until her charmed prince can rescue her from dragons and thorny defences.
Michael Fenton Stevens was delighted with first night.
"We've only been together for two weeks, but it came together pretty well," he said.
"The joy is getting to the children.
"All their lives they are told to behave and be quiet, and suddenly we encourage them to make a noise, boo, and mock adults.
"You know you have succeeded when the kids come on stage.
"I had one run into my arms as though I was an old friend.
"It's what makes panto so special."