Director: Stuart Wade
Musical Director: Dean McDermott
Choreographer: Emily Taylor
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Although not a fairy tale that traditionally received the panto treatment, Beauty and the Beast has become increasingly popular to adapt following Disney’s 1991 movie. Having this production coincide with this year’s release of the live-action remake has been a canny business decision and although the basic story struggles to remain coherent in panto form, Three Bears Productions still manages to include all of the required elements for a traditional, fun pantomime experience.
Debbie McGee plays good fairy Adorabella. Hot from the Strictly Come Dancing final, of course most of her script centres on Strictly and she is given the opportunity to show off her excellent dancing skills when she momentarily trades her fairy wings for a red flapper’s dress. As her cousin, the evil fairy Wizadora, Home and Away veteran Lynne McGranger is obviously having a ball. Both humorous and villainous, her performance is the perfect balance of funny and hiss-able. Her act two opening number about the joys of being evil is a highlight, especially when backed up by a line of dancing skeletons.
Blue’s Antony Costa plays the Prince / Beast and although he isn’t given an awful lot to do outside of (brilliantly) singing a few songs, he also impresses with his acting abilities and stage presence. Paired with him is Charlotte Maclachlan as Belle, giving a lovely, warm performance. Both deserve more to do but with such strong performances neither allows themselves to be totally sidelined in their own story.
The role of dame here is filled by Belle’s sister Misrabelle played by Steve Wickenden. Brilliantly energetic and immediately building a rapport with the audience, Wickenden struts through the show in an array of gaudy costumes and a cheeky glance at the audience every time he delivers one of his many innuendos. Also clicking straight away with the audience and holding the whole show together expertly is producer/director Stuart Wade as Seymore Bottom the jester. He is silly, sincere and very funny and the show is elevated whenever he arrives on stage. His rapport with children should also be praised as (on press night at least) he brilliantly dealt with the two young audience volunteers for the traditional sing-song. Emily Taylor’s choreography is excellent throughout with the small troupe of dancers (including Taylor herself) and the obligatory children providing polished performances.
Admittedly, the show is a little let down by both the lighting and sound being too low. It is common for the sound balance to have the music too high up in the mix, but even during script scenes many of the performers are difficult to decipher, while a severe shortage of face light means that any scene not fully lit, leaves performers somewhat in the dark. The script features a lot of panto staples and as Beauty and the Beast is known as the tale as old as time, it is fitting that it has some jokes to match. However, although many of the gags are close to their tell-by-date, their delivery by many of the cast (Wade and Wickenden in particular) gives them renewed life.
This is an unashamedly traditional pantomime which one can’t help to be entertained by. Some funny routines, excellent numbers and magical surprises – including a BIG one at the end of act one – make this a memorable experience. Be our guest? You could do a lot worse than accept the Grand Opera House’s invitation.
Runs until 7 January 2018 | Image: David Harrison