Writer: Anton Benson
Director: Lizzie Frances
Choreographer: Sarah Langley
Musical Director: Sam Coates
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Although traditionally belonging to Christmas, pantomimes have lately become a fixture of theatres throughout the entire year. The opportunity for the whole family to visit the theatre is one that should be applauded and Anton Benson Productions arrives in Whitley Bay this Easter weekend to delight old and young alike.
Beauty and the Beast is not one of the more common pantomime storylines, but with its fairly slim plot, it offers plenty of opportunity for the usual sketches and skits. Anton Benson’s script is very good, featuring some great gags. Anyone who has seen more than a couple of pantomimes will recognise some of the routines including a variation on Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”, but Benson adds a twist to them and they are handled so brilliantly by the cast they still seem fresh and funny.
Eva McKenna is Belle and Ben Sherlock is The Beast. McKenna’s performance is niceif a little blandwhile Sherlock seems rather uncomfortable in the role. However, neither get much to work with as both of these characters are completely side-lined in their own story. The plot gives way to comedy which is where this production wins with not one, but two national treasures in the cast. Keith Chegwin is an infectiously enthusiastic delight as King Cheggers, his appealing personality winning the audience from the start. His attempt to sing a serious song that is scuppered by inept stage hands is one of the highlights. Joining Cheggers is TV royalty Basil Brush who performs brilliantly and gets most of the best jokes. His cheekiness is a hit with the kids while his sarcastic asides amuse the accompanying adults.
Also on hand to add to the hilarity, is Ryan Greaves as Wally and Sam Rabone as Dame Dolly. Both are clearly pantomime veterans and as well as performing extremely well together, they are also adept at working the audience. Their routines, including one involving sound effects and another centred on brands of confectionary, are handled expertly and along with Cheggers they have the audience in hysterics with their messy rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas (yes, at Easter – but funny enough to forgive).
Michael Winsor plays Belle’s father very nicely (as well as acting as Basil Brush’s right-hand-man) and director Lizzie Frances has wonderful physicality but unfortunately poor diction in the narrator role of Fairy Tale. TV quiz show The Chase’s Anne Hegerty sadly proves that being clever and being able to act do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, dragging down proceedings whenever she appears.
Sets and costumes are nice and music is fine, if not particularly lavish. Technical issues, very poor sound balance and a general air of being under-rehearsed at times are unfortunate since the script and (most of) the cast deserve much better. However, one assumes that these issues will improve as the run goes on and they only slightly detract from the many positives on display here.
Take a break from overindulging in chocolate eggs and take an early trip to Pantomime Land – a fun and funny diversion.
Runsuntil 29 March2016 then touring nationwide| Image: Contributed