The Beauty and the Beast story has been popularised in modern times by Disney. However, the original folk story, was written in 1740 and set in France, by Gabrielle- Suzanne de Villeneuve. Popularised in this version for pantomime by Daniel O’ Brien, it is a strong morality tale which resonates with children. It encourages its audience to look beyond superficial beauty and have empathy for outsiders.
Director Colin Blumenau does not shirk the French connection, even risking a few Brexit jokes, the best of which was that the audience split 52/48 percent on which character’s team sang the best- which was not sufficient for a decisive victory! The show is presented by The Production Exchange, and from curtain up the values of the production were clear. The single stage set was basic, but adequate, the costumes lavish, the choreography unusually strong, the singing excellent. Theatre has been performed on site at the Town Hall for at least a century , when productions used to be staged for World War 1 veterans. For Beauty and the Beast, the stage had been brought forwards, providing capacious space for actors and musicians.
What distinguished this show was not only that there was a live band on stage, but that they also held principle acting positions, were multi-instrumentalists, and accomplished musicians at that. Seren Sandham-Davies as Beauty was superb on trumpet, sang beautifully and choreographed the show as well, I hope she picked up three wages!
Indeed, the principles were uniformly strong , Pete Ashmore excelling as the Dame. He eschews the camp, and instead plays a pretty impressive female as a man. Comic, sympathetic, but always lifting the energy levels whenever he came on. Playing opposite was Sue Appleby as the evil Enchantress. Dressed and made up like Siouxsie Sue from the Banshees, she took the boos and the hiss(es) as well as playing her fair share of music in the band. A perfect off-beat, villain, very effectively reprising the classic “I Put A Spell On You” to great effect.
Some pantomime companies cynically use children in the chorus to boost ticket sales. But here they were an integral, talented and disciplined part of the show. The Petals team were on duty for this performance and I could not help but notice the efforts of Daisy Violet Fitzpatrick who shone like the little star she is, her dance steps, movement and expression, impeccable.
The jokes entertained, enough simple gags to amuse the children, but with a sufficiently literate script for adults to be entertained too. I brought along Beau aged seven and Sol aged four, the latter for his first ever panto.
They loved the section where the cast had a water pistol fight amongst the audience, with plenty in the audience taking a squirting too. Both halves lasted around an hour which was perfectly timed to retain the children’s interest. A song and dance were never far away to keep the pace moving . Producer Florrie Whilby has done an excellent job in assembling a first rate cast delivering a show which retains all the tradition of pantomime, but with some fresh ideas too, full of vim, brio and fun.
Beauty and the Beast runs until 31st December