Writer: Jessica Lea
Director: Sam Donovan
Reviewer: Robin Winters
The Black E on the edge of Liverpool’s China Town has become the latest venue to give a home to pantomime. Offering its own unique localised and intimate take on the family favourite, new company Drops of Light present the epic tale of love Beauty and the Beast.
Sam Donovan’s fast-paced production utilises The Black E’s in-the-round space cleverly and manages to bring the space alive with his professional cast and using a host of community performers aged seven to 70 makes this pantomime one of the largest casts in the region, there are occasional issues with the logistics of moving so many people and it would be remiss to ignore the fact that there are issues technically with the sound making some moments inaudible either through the music being too loud or issues with microphones being too low, however, this is easily fixed as the show continues to grow and find its feet.
Local writer Jessica Lea provides plenty of witty lines and local references, her brisk adaptation leaves Disney at the door and ensures that the tale is clear and concise but still gives us all the traditional elements a panto should want, while Sean Gibbons’ simple set design places us firmly in the Beast’s castle. However, it’s Jay Lay’s stunning costume designs that really lift the bar for this production, each costume (there are over 250 of them) are bespoke and handmade for this production and ensures that this is a company that has ambition and quality firmly written upon it.
Unlike many of the city’s pantomimes, you won’t find any reality TV stars or celebrities of years gone by taking to the stage. Instead the production relies on strong local character actors to bring the fairytale to life. Alan Stocks best known for his many appearances at The Royal Court takes on the role of lovable inventor Egbert – he certainly warms to the role as the performance goes on, a shame his opening number just lacks the power and punch needed to really get the atmosphere going but his ability to improvise when things go wrong is a skill in itself. Helen Carter plays Fairy Rose with a verve and tenacity and powers home a stunning rendition of I Need A Hero. Comedy comes from a strong double act from Jamie Greers as Dame Dolly and Adam McCoy as Basic Bertie – one will never be able to look at the Superlambanana in the same way again.
As the lovable rogue Garston, Ciaran Kellgren gives plenty of macho-bravado to the role. Nick Langmead is strong as the Beast/Prince John and his vocal numbers have a real depth of emotion. As Belle Vale, Tori Hargreaves gives us a fresh-faced no-nonsense princess that gives more than just the average saccharine smile and pretty posture.
Beauty and the Beast is a four-star show, especially if they manage to sort out the technical issues which hamper the show a little. But this is a production that gives Drops of Light a strong foundation for future productions and one can’t wait to see what this ambitious company manage to achieve in the coming years.
Runs until 31st December 2017 | Image: Contributed