BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester
The Mercury's lavish Christmas shows are among the brightest of the repertory pantos. This year's Beauty and the Beast, written and directed by Janice Dunn, has all the traditional Colchester elements in place. First, the superb sparkly design [Foxton]: a crazy enchanted forest, at the heart of the plot, with its gnarled branches and Magic Flute serpent. It has a green glade stage right for the Good Fairy Rosa [Josephine Warren], and a sinister lair opposite for the evil Botoxia, though she seems to pop up, unwanted, everywhere, with her amazing costume and make-up. The show still boasts some proper dancing [choregrapher Cydney Uffindell-Phillips, dance captain Daniel Tawse] and the wonderful Mercury Junior Chorus, this year disguised as super furry animals and the Toxic Monkeys. And, in the pit, genial Graeme Du Fresne and his men, with an eclectic mix of music, including the season's most unlikely segue, from Lady Gaga to Carousel and back again, in Belle and the Beast's Act Two duet.
The twist this year was the ecological re-write of the old tale, with Clare Humphrey's vile Botoxia ["nobody likes you!", one tot called out from the stalls] scheming to turn the palace into a factory, replace the forest with concrete and choke the earth with foul pollutants. The Beast, impressively sung and spoken by a lithe, fiddle-playing Pete Ashmore, turns out to be her brother, and, though he is transformed at the end, it is merely a spiritual transformation. I liked the interplay between Ashmore and his Belle [Emily Bull], a very rom-com courtship this, adding girl power to the PC ticklist.
Maybe the younger patrons would have liked more of the slapstick and the quickfire silly gags, rather than all that Green allegory. We did have David Tarkenter and Thomas Richardson as a poacher double-act [a splendid "ghost" routine, pursued by a bear], Mercury stalwart Roger-Delves Broughton as poor old Bertie, and the energetic, appealing Dale Superville, this year playing Rolo the Ranger, at his best as his alter ego superhero Pie-Man. Ably assisted by Squirrel Nutcase, a distant cousin of Basil Brush.
It was Ignatius Anthony's turn to don the frocks this year, and a splendidly butch Dame Twiggy he made, with his coop of clucking beauties. Old Mother Riley was referenced in the script, in the programme, and in the lovely little bit of an Irish Reel.
We cheered as Botoxia finally sank into the Quick Sand and the rhyming couplets rounded off another Mercury pantomime. We even sang the interminable Flower Song while everyone changed for the excellently staged wedding walk-down – a regal yellow furry creation for Ignatius – with the Monkeys changed back into the innocent village children as the forest is saved for the future.
production photo by Robert Day