Tag Archives: Beauty and The Beast

Beautiful and Beastly

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd December, 2015

 

Not as commonly performed as a pantomime (everyone else seems to be doing Aladdin or Peter Pan this year) Beauty and the Beast has become irrevocably influenced by the Disney version. Audiences expect to see certain things – this new stab at the familiar tale by Iain Lauchlan hits the nail on the head to deliver a traditional panto that adheres to the plot and satisfies in almost all areas.

Lauchlan also directs and plays Dame Clarabelle Crumble – evidently he is a master of the genre. A lively script with corny and cheeky gags in abundance, a spirited performance and an eye for detail; Lauchlan brings all of these to the party. Things get off to a dark and dramatic start with the selfish Prince (Charlie Bowyer) abusing peasants and ending up transformed into the Disneyesque beast. Lauchlan handles the drama as deftly as the traditional panto skits and keeps the plot rattling along, with diversions along the way for a slosh scene in a bakery, for example. The Dame is aided and abetted by her son Willy Crumble (Craig Hollingsworth) opening the door for Willy jokes by the bucketful. It’s cheeky but never smutty and keeps the adults laughing as much as the kiddies. Hollingsworth is clearly in his element here. Willy is a kind of Buttons figure, suffering the pangs of unrequited love for Beauty, and is generally responsible for most of the broader laughs and bouts of silliness. The pantomime force is strong in these two.

Jessica Niles is the eponymous Beauty, vivacious and confident – she has more to do in the second act, which gives her opportunity to demonstrate her sweet singing voice. Charlie Bowyer’s Beast is scary, making us all jump out of our seats a couple of times, but we grow to like him as he struggles to find compassion. His singing voice is deep and rich – a pity their duet is a bit nondescript.

Andrew Gordon-Watkins is a commanding villain, the vainglorious Maurice (a version of Gaston from the film). He’s a great deal of fun with his posturing and posing – we enjoy disliking him and here’s where we run into trouble. Our loyalties are torn between him and the Beast, so when Maurice asks us to cheers along with him “We’re coming for you, Beastie” I don’t feel like it. By this point, I quite like the Beast and I don’t know whose side I’m supposed to be on. It would be better if we were shouting against Maurice’s plan.

Maurice is supported by dim-witted sidekick Dork, played by an energetic and expressive Blake Scott. Again, we enjoy him immensely but we shouldn’t be expected to be on his side.

There is strong support from Declan Wilson as Beauty’s father – indeed it falls to him to carry most of the dramatic weight of the plot, which is no mean feat when he is surrounded by such silliness. Choreographer Jenny Phillips also appears as the Enchantress, who features as our narrator, linking scenes and spelling things out. (Enchantress/spelling things out… suit yourself). Her team of dancers (a few pros and a company of local children) have plenty to do, appearing as villagers, weird creatures in the castle, a pack of wolves, and so on.

It all takes place on an impressive set, designed by Mark Walters, which has elements of fairy-tale castle and pop-up story book to it. The costumes are bright and extravagant; production values are high – it’s the Belgrade’s biggest show of the year.

Apart from a couple of weak musical numbers (I mean the material not the performance) the quality doesn’t flag. This is an excellent pantomime, steeped in traditions that still work, and fresh and funny enough to keep you grinning long after it’s finished.

beauty

Jessica Niles and Charlie Bowyer

 

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A Little Beauty

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The Brindley, Runcorn, Saturday 28th December, 2013

Last week I saw three versions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the trot, so it was especially refreshing to see a pantomime that is not so often performed.  Like Aladdin, our perceptions of Beauty and the Beast are indelibly coloured by the Disney film and this one owes a lot to that corporation’s stage version of its own animated feature.  This is not to the production’s deftriment – it’s one way of meeting audience expectations.  The other way is to give us the tropes and tricks we expect from a traditional pantomime.

This production does both very well.

Kate Mellors is, as you’d expect, a beautiful Belle, opening the show with the dancing villagers – one of those incongruous pop songs that seem to fit in panto! – and there is more to Belle than her looks.  She is caring, assertive and confident, attributes that many a panto heroine could do well to emulate.  The Beast – an excellent Joshua Mumby – stalks and roars and looks horrible but turns out to be kind-hearted; the message is clear: you can’t judge people by their looks.  The scariest thing about him is his penchant for singing the back catalogue of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Villain of the piece is the arrogant and vain Anton, played by Andy Moss (Rhys off of Hollyoaks) in his first panto.  His performance is slick and controlled, demonstrating his versatility – in fact, he’s so enjoyable it’s a while before we work out we’re supposed to be booing him.  Perhaps he needs to insult us all earlier in the script.

Anton is kept in check (just about) by his mother, the fabulous Sarah White as the elegant, wise-cracking Countess.  She is joined by another ex-Brookside regular, Neil Caple as Belle’s father in good form.  Callum Arnott is great fun as servant Ben, source of most of the show’s silliness, punctuating his punch lines with pelvic thrusts complete with comic sound effects.  Keeping the show firmly grounded in the realms of panto is director Joe Standerline who appears as Dame Dolly, a benevolent, fun-loving character with just enough sauce to keep the adults amused without descending into vulgarity.

The first half gets us through most of the plot.  The panto elements are blended in with the dramatic moments.  The second half sees both comedy and tragedy separated in alternate scenes, so we get a rowdy 12 Days of Christmas followed by a tender scene in which Belle begs her captor to allow her to visit her ailing father.  It’s a bit of a gear change but Standerline keeps both plates spinning, the panto and the drama, before bringing them together for the resolution.

It’s not the largest-scale production but in terms of professionalism, talent, and entertainment value it’s up there with the best.  The people of Runcorn are fortunate to have such a splendid venue in the middle of their little town and I hope they continue to support it long after pantomime season is over.

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