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.