Oh yes it is…..the best Panto this Christmas.

On yes it is indeed the best show this Christmas in Derry. Sleeping Beauty came to life earlier tonight on the Derry stage and allowed Christmas to become very real once again.

We’ve waited two years on the return to Panto and it’s come with a bang. Quite literally with a bang as William Caulfield and his merry crew brought laughter, fun, and sheer enjoyment to the Derry audience tonight.

It may have been planned, maybe not, but how fitting a show to put on stage this year in 2021, than Sleeping Beauty. The princess sleeps for 100 years and the world grows around her – not in a good way either. A little bit like our world at present. We’ve been locked into a very different world for nearly two years now and the ability to hope is not working for everyone. Tonight, watching this fun and enjoyment unfold on the Derry stage brought that hope alive again, and if Sleeping Beauty can come back and live happily ever after amid chaos, then so can we.

(Photo – Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

Caulfied is now in his 15th year as the Panto Dame and he never falters. To say he gets better with age might insult the young man that he is, so I’ll just say he’s like a mighty fine wine….. The Derry Panto just wouldn’t be the Derry Panto without him. William you made us smile wide tonight as always, but tonight’s smiles were so needed. Thank you.

Alongside William Caulfield are the Derry Panto legends that are Ellen Hasson, Orla Mullan, Keith Lynch, Conor O’Kane, Rachael O’Connor, and Karen Hawthorne. Each one excelling in their role. The entertainment they provided tonight was such that was needed, but theirs is such that just makes you feel right at home. They are like one big family together and you really don’t want to see one without the other. And as an audience you are made to feel like part of that very family.

As always there were the innuendos, the jokes, the reality checks and the sheer fun of Panto. As ever, the music just wowed everyone. Something from every era but by far the song for me was the arrival of Carabosse, aka Karen Hawthorne, with Guns n Roses, ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. She just nailed it, and had us all tapping and singing for the first time in two years. There was Madness and there was Queen, so this girl was happy!!

(Photo – Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

But could there be a favourite to this show? Could one possibly pick a character that stood out? OH yes we can…..tonight mine had to be Carabosse, Karen Hawthorne. Ye gotta love the bad girl. But she was a bad girl with passion. And no matter how much you want to dislike her, ye just fell in love with her every time. Hawthorne owned the stage from beginning to end. And her message in the end to the kids not to do bad like her, was very lovely. Reminding us all as the Lilac Fairy repeated throughout, that ‘good triumphs over evil.’ Even the Panto has hidden meaning: if you’re bad, you get Trumped!!!!

And one can’t overlook Pickles. He’s just a big pickle you want to love.

I had two young ladies accompany me, or should I say three young ladies, and each agreed that this was just an excellent production once again from the Millennium Forum. The two youngest ladies, Jenny Rose and Alex, were very proud when Carabosse waved to them at the end. Their night was made. Leaving the theatre on a wet and cold December night with children smiling is all the medicine I needed in this build-up to Christmas. This showed the tonic that Sleeping Beauty and all its cast are. The medicine that’s so desperately needed this Christmas.

The stage setting, the costumes, the ensemble, the choreography, the live band, all contribute to this being the one show you need to see this Christmas. They are all part of the tonic to make us feel good this Christmas.

With a few changes, which we did miss, like the cast coming into the audience, Caulfield raiding some poor ladies handbag, kids on stage, but it was fine. The world is a different place since the last Panto, and we can live with these changes. The fun and the laughter won through.

Sleeping Beauty and the fabulous cast gave us a hint of normality tonight. In fact they gave us an escape from the normal we’ve come to know. Both were desperately needed in this build up to Christmas 2021. If you need to refuel your imagination, just need a good laugh, or really need to get into the Christmas spirit, then this show is for you. And you can be aged 5 to 105. Age really doesn’t matter. This show has something for everyone.

Sleeping Beauty runs at the Millennium Forum Derry until Jan. 2nd. It would prove a super duper present in someone’s stocking or it would just put a smile on someone’s face to invite along. Tickets can be bought from the Box Office on site, by calling 71 264455  or by visiting millenniumforum.co.uk


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