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24th August 2019

Review: Beauty & the Beast


Where else but panto would you find Mary Berry and Prue Leith fighting in front of a talking teapot, clock and crystal chandelier.

One of literature’s earliest feminist stories, it was nice to see the production team were all women. Not that this is some woke reimagining if you’re bothered by that sort of thing.

Yes, there could’ve been more gags for the mums and dads; they mentioned Brexit once but I think they got away with it and a great kettle joke was underplayed. But it’s a fun and very family focused show.

Where long-term member Lily Jessica Griffiths – making her writing and directing debut with the company – triumphs is getting the youngsters on side. I was amazed how quickly and enthusiastically they were yelling, cheering and jeering. Their excitement never lagged.

Surprisingly, it’s the first time the company have staged this tale that truly is as old as time. It started as a 1740 novel, which was rewritten 16 years later with a message of women knowing their value beyond being a wife. It’s been a musical and turned into a film twice by Disney.

Unsurprisingly, this was closer to the latter with a few name changes. Book-loving Belle swaps places with her crackpot inventor dad who’s been imprisoned by the Beast. Nudged together by his enchanted servants it looks like true love will win the day. Until the pompous Pierre threatens to ruin everything.

Belle and the Beast bonding over their favourite novel – Pride and Prejudice, a nice touch – led to one of the best numbers, Cover is Not The Book from Mary Poppins Returns. The music choices were smart, ranging from Pink and Duran Duran to Les Miserables, Frozen and The Greatest Showman anthem This Is Me.

There were lots of traditional touches – the messy baking scene, the we’ll have to sing it again then won’t we number and even a panto cow.

The band were great, albeit a bit loud when characters were talking at times; but this was first night. The choreography was on point and the set nice. The Prince’s transformation into the Beast and particularly back was well done.

The cast – principles and ensemble – were great, especially Ellie Clarkson as Belle and Neil Thorpe as the Prince / Beast. The dame is the lynchpin of a panto and Paul Leech nailed it as enchanted teapot Madam I’ll-Pour.

Wayne Savage
Twitter @WSavageWrites

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