Beauty And The Beast
HAVING in the past few months seen both the Disney musical and a superb version of the original story, this particular jury is still out as to whether or not Beauty and the Beast does in fact make a good pantomime. I'm inclined towards thinking that it doesn't, but that doesn't alter the fact that HCP have once again come up with the goods and produced a splendid entertainment courtesy of production team Shelley Gould (director), Cara Bowen (choreographer) and Ian Carter (musical director). This story finds us in the French village of Cabaret – we know it's in France not because of the characters' names, which on the whole are decidedly un-French, but because every mention of the word 'can' brings forth a trio of can-can dancers who, despite their frothy costumes, are men who bring the house down every time they appear. There's the red rose fairy, Rose (that should read as per the wine but I can't locate an accent to go over the e), splendidly played by a sparkling Valerie Gillard, who is kept busy trying to grant everyone's wishes no matter how bizarre. She also does her utmost to thwart the evil doings of the bad Prince Jasper (an excellent Malcolm George), who has assumed the role of king by turning his brother Prince Caspar (a super Lee McGowan) into a Beast.
If it's panto there must be a Dame of course, and here it is Widow Bonbon (an impressive 'dame' debut from David Coward), whose three children Sherbet (Pete Whitaker), Candy (Kim Doyle) and Flossy (Jane Melling) delightfully provide much of the evening's humour. We also get to meet a couple of traffic wardens, Nosey Parker and Kirby Crawler (Stephen Hutt & Paul Beecroft), whose sole purpose in life seems to be moving people on from wherever they may be standing or clamping them if they don't move. Into this melee of oddball characters comes one Dr Tootle (Marcus White), a charlatan melody merchant who is travelling with his daughter, Bonnie, the Beauty of the title, charmingly played by a sweet-voiced Coral Norton. And I'm a sucker for pantomime horses so I couldn't possibly leave out the very appealing Gigi, could I? All the principals are strong, there is some excellent choreography and the chorus is lively, although a little spray of laughing gas wouldn't go amiss on the occasions when one or two faces tend towards the blank. Add to that some excellent singing, a superb band, great sets and costumes and the obligatory sing-along and all the ingredients are there for a fun-filled evening. I must admit that 'second performanceitis', a common theatrical complaint, was a little in evidence on the night I was there, causing one or two late entrances and missing props, but you can rest assured that this virus is always very quick to pass and is unlikely to recur during the rest of the run.