Beauty and the Beast – Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Eric Potts

Director: Stacey Haynes

It’s such a shame to see pantos hit two years running. Last year many Dick Whittingtons, Aladdins and Jack and the Beanstalks were brought to an early close by the third lockdown. This year, many are struggling to remain open as Covid hits the cast and crew, and many people are choosing to stay at home because of the Omicron variant. Pantos need full houses, and Croydon’s Beauty and the Beast is no exception.

Fairfield Hall’s big stars are Dick & Dom, children’s TV stars, boasting, apparently, the catchphrase of ‘Bogies’. There are signed bogie- themed t-shirts on sale in the theatre’s foyer to prove it. The comedy duo have no shame in plugging the garments to the kids in the audience, but it’s not clear who gets the profit from this merch; Dick & Dom or Croydon’s modernist venue?

When not advertising their wares, Dick & Dom try the best they can, but both are in such a hurry that they never wait for their jokes to land. Other set pieces are rushed too, like their magic bucket trick. Usually the What I Would Do If I Weren’t In Pantomime skit is a sure way to bring in the laughs, but here it, too, is truncated and any danger of being smashed in the face is mitigated by the cast standing so far from each other it seems as if the two metre rules have been re-introduced.

Until the last 15 minutes, there is little for the audience to do – unlike Hackney’s Jack and the Beanstalk where the audience is given many shouting responsibilities – meaning that at even two hours long this Beauty and the Beast does drag a little. If only the energy put into the last section could have figured in the earlier scenes then Croydon might have a real hit on its hands.

Some of the missing pep might have been found in a pantomime dame, but this iteration by Imagine Productions strangely omits her. There ain’t noting like a dame and so her absence is a fatal mistake. Instead we have Play School’s Derek Griffiths running around believing that he is performing with Ant and Dec. It’s great to see the veteran actor back on stage but no mention is made of his early TV career. It seems a wasted opportunity not to draw some laughs from those in the audience old enough to remember the likes of Humpty, Jemima and Little Ted.

While Dick & Dom do most of the hard work, Nic James receives some boos and hisses as the villainous and conceited Benedict Bourbon (cue jokes about biscuits). Alice Oberg does her best as Belle, but her character shows little resistance when she is incarcerated by the Beast. Instead of agreeing to marry him, she should first be treated for Stockholm Syndrome. As the Beast, Danny Whitehead is in fine voice and gets the greatest applause of the evening.

But even their performances can’t hide the hollow centre in this pantomime. Give the audience more to do; it might pay dividends.

Runs until 2 January 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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