REVIEW Beauty and the Beast TRW
Posted by News Editor
Posted in News
REVIEW Beauty and The Beast – Theatre Royal Winchester, Wednesday 5th December 2019
By David Cradduck
It’s panto night at Theatre Royal Winchester and despite the dark, gloomy, rainy conditions outside, all is buzzing and very much aglow with excitement and multi-coloured wands inside Winchester’s Edwardian-style, 400-seat theatre.
If there’s one thing Winchester likes it’s Christmas and it seems they can never get those festive lights turned on soon enough each year. But we all know it’s getting into the seasonal mood ‘proper’ when panto comes to town!
2018 marks no less than James Barry’s 14th Christmas production at Theatre Royal Winchester – he has, as both writer and director, a wonderful knack of taking a good show and making it a traditional cracker. Last year’s ‘Peter Pan’ was a sell-out and if audience reaction is anything to go by, ‘Beauty and The Beast’ is likely to follow suit over its month-long run.
My first thought when I saw this year’s choice of pantoat TRW was that there have been several productions of the same title locally this year. Indeed another local theatre has also chosen it for its Christmas production. My second thought was what a strange piece to turn into a panto.
But my immediate answers to these thoughts were “so what?” and “why?” respectively. It is because it is a panto and has Barry’s indelible signature on it that it marks it out as different; and if ever there were pantomime plot and characters galore in a story it’s this one: Beauty is eminently suitable as a festive panto and the proof is plain to see on the stage tonight.
There is a familiar line-up in the cast: Eleanor Bennett, last year’s Wendy, returns as petite Belle; the infamous pantomime dame Julian Eardley is back as Dotty, the Beast’s unlikely housekeeper, sporting those amazing eyebrows and dodgy pink frocks.
Ed Thorpe completes the list of regulars as Wally, cheeky son of Dotty. He played Smee in Peter Pan and was 1 of 5 nominees for a national award for his panto and character roles… which is fantastic as Peter Pan was his first panto!
Ed steals the show once again with quick one-liners, natural warmth and affinity with the audience, plus an amazing rapport with his stage ‘mum’.
Joining them are Nathan Turner as Prince Vincent/Beast, Tim Faulkner as Belle’s father, Sarah Annakin playing the evil witch Malevolent (very much living up to her name) and Kristopher Milnes in the role of Bouffon, a Presley-esque suitor to Belle, sporting a suitably French accent to match his outrageous wig. He engages with the audience to perfection with the character’s preening self-admiration and his comic timing is spot on.
Completing the line-up of principals is Fairy Fifi, played by Alice Bonifacio, who can not only wave her magic wand but who is also a dab hand at the violin, often heard (and sometimes seen) like the Fiddler on the Roof, accompanying the singers and the band, led by Tom Attwood.
Like the previous ten Christmas shows, the upbeat music is provided by Olivier-nominated composer and actor Simon Slater. You won’t hear many of the more familiar ‘Beauty and the Beast’ melodies in this version but the tunes will certainly have your foot tapping.
The ‘pros’ are more than ably supported by a talented team of local young performers, who are not just chorus or colourful background – they really do integrate in every way through voice, dance and acting, with assistance from choreographer Sam Taylor-Martin. The tango sequence is superb.
Colourful costumes, sets and lighting are classy and visually slick. In true tradition, complex scene changes, and there are several, are conducted in near silence behind beautifully painted backdrops and the use of patterned gauze and lighting to create moody background scenes is impressive.
For those of you who managed to miss multiple incarnations from the original 18th century fairy story ‘La Belle et la Bête’ to Disney’s lavish film and stage versions, the plot is relatively simple: a vain and handsome prince rejects the advances of a wicked witch who wreaks revenge by turning him into a hideous beast. Only one thing can save him: someone must fall in love with him before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose.
James Barry’s version sticks faithfully to the essence of the storyline but replaces characters like the candlestick, clock , teapot/cup and wardrobe with Dame Dotty, cheeky chappy Wally, a pink fairy and the occasional appearance of Gigi, the pantomime horse. It works!
Spoiler alerts: make sure you sit as far back in the stalls as you can, or even the circle, to avoid getting too involved (or take a waterproof). Keep an eye out for some hilarious slapstick between Dotty and Wally; make sure you are in good voice and humour – if you aren’t when you go in, you will be when you come out.
I guarantee you would have to be a real old grump not to enjoy this delightful Christmas show, one of the best I’ve seen at this theatre and one that will appeal to any age group – this is definitely a family show. Yes, there are one or two adult gags, but nothing you will be embarrassed about when telling your granny.
Talking of appealing to everyone, of special note is the fact that there are special ‘relaxed’ performances aimed at those who have difficulty with loud noises, flashing images and the dark. Truly, there is something for everyone in this festive show. This is what real, family panto is about. Oh, yes it is!
‘Beauty and The Beast’ runs until 6th January. Details can be found here or call Theatre Royal Winchester on 01962 840440.
Images ©The Other Richard