Remarkable night thanks to the ever-brilliant Chichester Festival Youth Theatre

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, until December 30.

Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Helen Murray
Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Helen Murray

They promised Sleeping Beauty with a twist, and they certainly deliver it, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre once again delivering as only they can, with a production bursting with talent, huge on imagination and visually stunning at every turn. With shades of Into The Woods, this is a version of a fairy tale which, courtesy of Rufus Norris, bends it, rewrites and goes beyond it to deliver Sleeping Beauty complete with bizarre sequel – a strange, strange piece, but a challenge the youth theatre rise to magnificently.

Ryan Dawson Laight’s costumes are superb; Simon Higlett’s set is perfect; and the cast do the rest to weave their own kind of magic.

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Tonight’s Beauty was Izzy Richardson, and she plays her beautifully, with commendable composure and great expression, firstly the frustrated youngster confined to quarters because of a curse and then, rather oddly, a young mum with twins facing down an ogress mother-in-law highly likely to eat them. Megan Bewley’s ogress is terrifically done, with a sure sense of comic timing.

Hal Darling is another with great stage presence as the king and sorely tried dad to Beauty; opposite him Molly Berry is impressive as our Queen. Between them, with their longings, they open themselves up to the dastardly curse which sends their daughter on a lengthy doze.

Presiding over it all and complicating everything are the three incarnations of Goody, played tonight by Emily McAlpine, Francesca McBride and Katie Utting, each working beautifully to root us in this very peculiar world. Excellent too from Joe Russell as the prince.

Holding it all together is former Chichester Festival Youth Theatre member and now the show’s director Lucy Betts. After a long succession of shows directed by youth theatre director Dale Rooks, it always seems a shame when a tradition is broken.

But Betts shares Rooks’ remarkable skill in coaxing the very, very best out of her young charges, and with so different a show this year maybe a different director was called for. Betts acquits herself with a sureness of touch which suggests total understanding of the youth theatre and of the stage on which they perform.

If there is a problem with the production, it’s perhaps that Norris’ adaption is too much in two halves. The first gives us the traditional story; the second goes beyond it with a continuation which isn’t quite its match – but that’s certainly no fault of the cast who work with what they have got, delivering it with flair, fluency, ease and remarkable skill.

Also Norris’ preoccupation with flatulence… well, does he really need to detract from the magic he has worked so hard to create? Probably not.

But the most important thing is that all the challenges he has created, and indeed the opportunities, have been met with relish by a supremely talented cast, a wonderful asset not just to the theatre but to the whole of the city and far, far beyond.