Writer: Daniel Bell
Director: Oliver Scott
Reviewer: John Roberts
The Grange Theatre in Hartford is on their third pantomime producer in as many years and this year’s production is produced by KD Theatre Productions. KD is no stranger to producing pantomime and their production of Beauty and the Beast, while not perfect, certainly shows more heart and soul than many other pantomimes produced at this venue over recent years.
Daniel Bell’s script has all the hallmarks of a traditional pantomime: audience participation, groan-worthy gags, ghost bench and lively, colourful characters – the references are topical and the script reflecting the cast performing. The difficulty with any pantomime is the casting, finding the balance between “star” names to headline and help sell tickets and finding the talent who can help carry the show and, on the whole, KD Productions manages to do this well and it is certainly almost left to the “unknowns” to really inject the pantomime with its much-needed energy and charisma.
It the titular roles Charlie Healey from boyband The Risk takes on the role of The Prince/Beast; he can certainly belt out a song, but the acting side is a work in progress… he lacks charm and charisma and gives us a one-dimensional performance. Likewise, newcomer Annalise Bailey as Belle may look every inch the picture book princess but she imbibes the character with far too much angst to make her the part that everyone should be rooting for – one could argue that X-Factor‘s Isabelle Lock should have been cast in the titular role, not only looking beautiful as Fairy Rose, but she can sing like a dream and act with the best of them.
Local lad Ross McNeill gives plenty of energy as the simpleton Willy-Do-It and provides plenty of laughs throughout. He is partnered brilliantly by Rob Stevens as Dame Mary Bakewell – Stevens’ eclectic wardrobe of outrageous costumes never fail to wow and it’s joyous to see an all-singing-and-dancing Dame upon the stage. In a great twist, Gregory Hazel takes on the evil Poison Ivy – looking very glam in green he manages to bring real menace to the role. It’s just a shame that he sounds like he’s stuck in a submarine throughout the show.
KD Productions need to spend some serious time sorting out the sound balance throughout the show – with so many issues including non-working microphones, feedback, strange underwater sounding reverb it makes the cast have to work 100 times harder to compensate. Likewise, one would query the placement of the two-piece band of keys and percussion smack bang centre stage in front of the audience – isn’t the best place, especially as the venue doesn’t have a pit and the main floor seating isn’t raked. It’s also a shame that all you can hear throughout the show is the drums drowning out any melody being played by the woefully low keys.
The show looks great – especially Paul Edwards’ stunning lighting design, which is sculptural and full of colour, his design also helps facilitate scene changes in a clever way hiding the fact that venue lacks the ability to fly. With a few urgent tweaks, this pantomime can easily be brought up to the next level – perhaps having a director (Oliver Scott) who isn’t also performing in the show may have sorted some of these issues in tech and dress rehearsals.
If Beauty and the Beast is anything to go by, and producers Katherine Hickmott and Daniel Bell take note of the issues with this year’s production, it can only mean good things when they bring a pantomime version of The Wizard of Oz to the venue next year.
Runs until 1 January 2017 | Image: Contributed