Writer: Liam Mellor
Director: Chantelle Nolan
Reviewer: John Roberts
St Helens Theatre Royal was one of the first venues to start producing an Easter pantomime, starting off as a three show experiment over 10 years ago, this has now grown into something far bigger and puts some producers’ pitiful Christmas offerings to shame – but that’s no surprise given the fact that producer Jane Joseph and directing daughter Chantelle Nolan have well over 40 years pantomime experience between them.
Last Christmas, the theatre produced one of the sharpest and speediest productions of Aladdin that this reviewer has ever seen and it’s clear the same formula has been applied here with Beauty and the Beast. The story is almost as you would expect and there are notable nods to the Disney version throughout. Nolan has made sure there is nothing superfluous in this slick and savvy production, scenes are short and snappy, routines don’t outstay their welcome and the cast delivers bags of energy.
Taking on the titular roles are Milkshake’s Amy Thompson and Richard Hazlewood. Thompson makes a splendid Belle, keeping the saccharine at just the right level and balances it out with some real attitude at the right time, she also has a lovely singing voice, which, as she gets more comfortable through the run will only get stronger. Hazlewood is a pleasant enough prince but his “American” accent jars and one can’t shake the feeling that he would arguably make a better king.
Joining Thompson on top billing is Big Brother alumnus Nikki Grahame who dons the wand and wings as Fairy Rose, never one to shy away from getting stuck in Grahame delivers a strong performance and never lets an opportunity to take a dig at herself pass her by. Joining her are St Helens regulars Liam Mellor as French Frank – which plays out like the dirty love child of a Parisian Frank Spencer and Simon Foster as Potty Polly. Foster still stands as one of the country’s most underrated dames and his chemistry with Mellor is second to none and their comedy routines delivered with hilarious results. Philip McGuinness hams the ego as the brutish Gaston and is joined by the larger-than-life and fierce Hannah Potts as the villainous Madame Botox.
The sets taken from the venues own stock is glittery and while it may not all gel together as neatly as Aladdin at Christmas (A giant Iron and Ironing board?) it still looks great, especially when we enter the Beast’s castle. However, the stars on the production side are Giles Bishop and Becci Quinn’s costume designs – full of colour and really setting the standard high.
With Beauty and the Beast children and adults alike (there are plenty of risqué jokes in Mellor’s script) will be joining in throughout and, with a host of modern songs that are sharply choreographed by Sarah Walker’s engaging routines that utilise the Theatre Royal’s small stage perfectly, this is certainly an Easter treat for all the family.
Runs until 23 April 2017 | Image: Contributed