Sleeping Beauty

Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

09/04/2007 - 13/04/2007

Production Details

Directed and produced by Sarah Somerville and Phineas Phrog Productions Limited

Had Sleeping Beauty known all the fuss her famous ‘nap’ would create, surely she wouldn’t have dreamed of going near the old crone and her spinning wheel.

Luckily, however, she did, and her tale has enchanted children and adults for nearly four hundred years; her latest incarnation is in Phineas Phrog’s production of Sleeping Beauty at the Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland.

“It’s timeless,” says director and actor Sarah Somerville of the classic tale. “It’s one of those boy-meets-girl stories but with real magical elements and lots of adventure.”

Somerville says that their Sleeping Beauty is a modern girl who knows her mind and has a particular penchant for birthday cake because she missed out when she pricked her finger and fell into her 100-year slumber on her 16th birthday.

Three actors will play all the characters in the show, including Beauty; her father the king; the prince; all 13 fairies from the original fairytale; and a dragon, who has been borrowed from the Walt Disney version.

As the tale covers so many years, Somerville has devised a special time machine to whiz the audience through Beauty’s life, beginning with the curse laid on her as a baby by the wicked fairy, shooting forward to her 16th birthday, then on another 100 years to when the handsome prince comes to rescue her.

Somerville reckons the hardest part about staging a show like this is the wide range of ages they get in the audience; the play needs to be multilayered in order to appeal to very young kids, the five- to seven-year-olds and also parents and caregivers.

Visual theatre with plenty of physical gags appeals to young ones, she says, while the older kids enjoy the more sophisticated verbal jokes and the adults understand the more “self-conscious” layer of humour on top of that.

Somerville is hoping that with all the adult-oriented events on in Auckland at the moment, families will take the opportunity to come along to a show they can all enjoy.

Sleeping Beauty is on at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna, Auckland from Monday, 9 April to Friday, 13 April 2007.

Greg Cooper
Cameron Douglas
Sally Somerville

Theatre , Family , Children’s ,

1 hr

Energy and commitment undermined by flawed script and little technical creativity

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 17th Apr 2007

Directed and produced by Sarah Somerville and Phineas Phrog Productions Limited, Sleeping Beauty features three extremely hard working actors, who between them, gallantly and with great dedication and energy, portray the key characters from the fairy-tale, plus those added by this adaptation.

Greg Cooper is at home in this genre, playing the servant Eugene, with dead-pan ease one minute, then milking the opportunity to bring out his Queen fairy at the baby princess’ christening, the next.

Cameron Douglas is also well cast, and gives a very enjoyable performance as the King in particular. His over-the-top, drawn out adoration of his dear baby princess was very nice.

Sally Somerville was at her best portraying the various fairies bestowing gifts on the newborn princess. However, given she had so many characters to play, she could do well to centre her voice more, drawing on a deeper register, to give some vocal variety. Her singing voice, like many of the speaking voices she chose for her characters, was high-pitched and unsupported at times.

With any kid’s show, getting the delivery of the humour just right, in terms of what appeals to kids and what appeals to parents, is a tricky thing. Sleeping Beauty didn’t quite hit the mark, with set ups and punch lines occasionally clichéd, or drawn out and exaggerated beyond their best-delivered-by-date. The kids around me, the boys in particular, seemed bored and put off by some of the more obvious humour. However, when a ‘less is more’ approach to joke telling was scripted, such as the King’s aside about the "crown jewels", it got a deserving chuckle.

One aspect of the writing that was more successful was Somerville’s frequent use of audience interaction, which serves to increase the young viewer’s interest and involvement with the plot. We become the christening party for example, and later of course, the forest that had grown over the palace.

However, to further connect her young audience to the story, Somerville’s script needed to remain more true to the core emotions of the original tale. For example, when the King pleads for help from the last fairy to lift or soften the curse, the response of "I’ll give it a whirl" doesn’t convey the fact that this is the princess’s only hope of survival.

The script also added gimmicks, such as a time machine, a wooden super-hero and a red phone, but in amongst it all, didn’t always spell out for the kids, the basic plot points. Scenes lacked cohesion and appeared disjointed, as characters suddenly became narrators, to explain where we were and why, then characters again.

The overall lack of investment in technical support, such as dynamic lighting design and good sound effects, lets this production down. Time after time, such as the entrance of the big bad fairy, a lighting change was needed as it would’ve gone a long way to break up the long periods of dialogue delivered on a wide stage lit by a flat general wash of white light.

The backing tracks sounded tinny and were hard on the ear at times, but the committed and happy performances of the actors made for a colourful, upbeat delivery.

Using a few sound effects on obvious cues such as "sound the trumpets", rather than the actors miming and providing a muffled attempt at a trio of horns, once again, could’ve broken up the monotony of the entire production resting on the abilities of this small, over-worked cast.

While there were certainly highlights throughout the hour, my 3-year daughter’s (and my) interest waned. Even with all the energy and happiness in the world, these three actors, because they were let down by a flawed script, and on such a large stage, with little to no dynamic technical creativity, and only a few brightly painted permanent one dimensional props to move around, were not enough to sustain our interest for so long.

However, we both loved the unexpected (and sort of unexplained) appearance of the dragon. He was a cheerful bloke with a very interesting face and some great lines.

I was also very impressed that Auckland kids were able to enjoy such a cheap show: Sleeping Beauty had a refreshingly low-ticket price. Often the entry fee for live theatre is too high for most families to contemplate going to a live performance rather than a movie.  


Anna Hartley July 3rd, 2007

With another school holiday on our doorstep, I think the key point in Kate's review is in her closing paragraph - Phineas Phrog Productions supplies energetic shows for a REALLY reasonable price. Expectations of a large cast, fancy lighting and technical support would instantly bump up the ticket price. I am thrilled that I am able to afford to take my kid to the theatre EVERY school holiday and be entertained by energetic actors, brightly painted sets and a novel script directed at children and adults alike. If you happen to find your attention momentarily waning (which I didn't!) I guess you could think about that coffee and muffin that you will be able to afford to buy after the show thanks to the low ticket price and be grateful that your children have the opportunity to see live theatre performed by a dedicated theatre company.

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