BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The Rock'n'Roll Panto at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
Peter Rowe's latest Rock'n'Roll panto, directed by Rob Salmon, takes the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, with its generous slug of Cinderella, and serves with generous measures of great music.
All performed by ten phenomenally talented actor-musicians.
That's the Wolsey tradition, as are live sound effects from the keyboard, the punning show-and-tell props, and the cuddly animals augmenting the chorus.
It's great to see the colourful characters creep back on to take their place on the band-stand – the Good Fairy on sax, the Dame on guitar – but when you promote the pit to the stage, there's not a lot of space left for scenery. We have to use our imaginations for the scary forest and the Castle of the Beast, though Barney George's all-purpose art deco design is a masterpiece of restrained elegance.
Much of the action, including the amazing flying chicken, takes place on Mucky Manor farm. And the jokes are sometimes none too clean; Bessie Bigbreaths, Eamonn Fleming's down-to-earth Dame, sets the tone, in a cheeky performance which recalls the golden age of the Crazy Gang. Sporting farmyard chic, a provocative “pulling dress” and a wedding outfit for the walk-down including a halo of peacock's feathers. [Beauty's dad, the Baron Hardup figure, is Sir Peacock Beauregarde, played by Daniel Carter-Hope.]
Not a weak performance amongst these panto pro's: Dan de Cruz not only did the Prince/Beast double – perhaps too beastly crude for the “kind and generous” monster – but also two completely different messengers, one of whom had the excellent “Generally Hospitable” joke …
Esther Biddle makes a lovely, maternal Godmother, and handles the verse-speaking impeccably, the Ugly Sisters [very stylish, with their nearly-labels designer bags] are Sarah Mahony and Nicola Bryan, and poor little Beauty is Lucy Wells in a girlish dress; even for the wedding she only gets a slightly more flattering outfit.
Broker's Men, with loads of physical comedy, are Ben Goffe and Adam Langstaff, and Desperate Dan is engagingly done by Matt Jopling.
Those great old songs are key to the show's success of course: Let Me Entertain You [Robbie, not Gypsy] for the Beast's pyrotechnic finale to Act One, impressively styled by De Cruz, Perfect, with Fairy sax solo, When Will I See You Again, belted out by Bessie in the style of a club vocalist, and the O'Jays' Love Train for the carefully choreographed encore.
Quickfire gags, audience participation, with Andrew from row D relishing his fifteen seconds of fame, Jekyll and Hyde moments and a tip-top playlist make for hugely enjoyable panto fun. It even manages to be true, in its fashion, to the eighteenth century original, with the evil fairy, the merchant and the magic mirror ...
this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews