Writer: Chris Hannon
Musical Director: Ward Baker
Director: Karen Simpson
Reviewer: Flip Miller
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual visit to a traditional family pantomime and, this year, it’s the turn of Beauty & The Beast at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.
The story has the classic threads that we all know and love. The mysterious Beast, the shy but feisty Belle and, of course, we all want to know if love will conquer all. There is plenty of music, wonder, fun and those awful pantomime jokes that are so bad they’re funny.
The curtain rises to Fairy Blossom (Leonie Spilsby) greeting the audience and explaining how the arrogant Lord Leopold became the Beast. Spilsby plays the character with a delightfully ditzy but ethereal air while sporting very earthly pink wellies.
We’re then treated to an ensemble piece that starts the action for the first – rather slow – half of the show. The team is well choreographed by Julia Cave – while hands, arms and legs all move in time to the music, a few more smiles wouldn’t go amiss.
The Dame in this show is Molly Muffintop, played with very little feminine flair by Eamonn Fleming. Her costumes are certainly plentiful and colourful and are new for this season’s production, but Fleming doesn’t ham up the role quite as much as we would expect. That task goes to our heroine’s father, played by Martin Neely, who takes “hamming it up” to a whole new level.
By their very nature, pantos call for over-the-top performance and, unfortunately, the slapstick scene falls far too short of this standard. This scene is an ideal opportunity to really push the boat out but in this case, it’s lacklustre and could almost have been removed from the show altogether.
The heroine in the show is Belle (Louise Olley), who has a strong singing voice and really carries her songs well. This Belle, however, is no wimp but fiercely independent – Gone is Lord Leopold asking Belle’s father for her hand in marriage. This version has her eye on her man and Olley displays this independence with the right about of sassy attitude without being overbearing.
Act one is saved by the singing of a re-written version of the Les Miserables song At The End of The Day. This song is sung with energy and passion. The second half and the adapted lyrics to the songs proves to be the saving grace of the show.
Two notable performances are the Evil Elvira played by Britt Lenting and the Beast himself played by Sebastian Hill. Lenting is dark and brooding and has the audience booing and hissing on every entrance. The fight scene between Lenting and Hill is edge of the seat stuff, all the audience willing good to triumph over evil.
The Beast costume is beautifully executed and is a mix of fur and puppetry. Inside the costume, Hill manages to convey emotion despite the audience not being able to see his facial expressions.
As a traditional family pantomime, and with some directorial TLC, Beauty & The Beast could be a winner. Sadly, at the moment there’s room for improvement.
Runs until 15 January 2017 | Image: Bill Jackson Photography