Melissa Blease reviews Beauty and The Beast, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 12 January
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Oh yes it is! Which means, of course, that the Theatre Royal Bath’s annual festive fest is poised to work its time-honoured magic as the pantomime takes centre stage.
TRB never shies away from proudly flaunting good old proper pantomime tradition, abiding by a strict set of long-established pantomime rules – there be no contemporary twist-dragons lurking behind the scenes and the audience may as well drop all notions of politically correct sensibilities on their way to their seats for we’re on classic boy-meets-girl territory here: the girl is beautiful, the boy is a prince, and the supporting characters are not in the slightest bit confused by their nonsensical identities.
But if I sound as though I’ve suddenly turned the clock back on feminist attitudes and gender stereotyping by at least five decades, then I offer you a resounding Oh No I Haven’t: I’m merely immersing myself in Christmas spirit – and you can’t get a more spirited pantomime than Beauty and The Beast.
Following an unfortunate encounter with a rather scary witch, young Prince Albert is turned into a rather scary beast (albeit a beast with a beauty of a voice: step into the spotlight Shaun Dalton, for one day you too will be Michael Ball). But Beast‘s predicament is temporary; as soon as he learns to love and be loved in return, he’ll turn back into Prince Charming again (although not literally, or course; that would be another pantomime altogether). Cue spirited village girl Belle (Clare Maynard), who enters Beast‘s realm after her father has been inadvertently imprisoned in the dungeons of his palace.
Is Belle the answer to all of Beast’s beastly problems? Is Beast Belle’s dream made flesh? Will a lively supporting cast of characters assist Beast and Belle on their road to romance, punctuating their journey with lashings of really good bad jokes, oodles of really fab songs and, of course, loads of opportunities to point out to various members of the cast that he/she/it is behind them, and plenty of oh-no-you-won’t/oh-yes-you-are audience participation retorts along the way? Why am I even asking such questions? We know we’re in safe hands…
As loveable Louis La Plonk, Jon Monie keeps his end up at all times (have that one on me, Jon): he’s a master of the art of corny comedy timing, and even his very worst jokes are daft enough to make Scrooge snigger. Monie’s non-stop slapstick tomfoolery is ably aided and abetted by Nick Wilton as Louis’ mum Polly: frolicsome, ludicrous, unapologetically Les Dawson-esque and dressed, in all scenes, in outfits of the worst possible taste, this dame is most definitely not a drag. There’s a sagacious fairy lighting up the stage too (Fairy Bon Bon, aka Wendi Coronation Street/Hetty Feather Peters – watch out in particular for her big singing solo, which is powerful enough to rattle the TRB’s famous chandelier) and Ben Harlow as egocentric playboy Hugo Pompidou (think, Derren Brown meets Pete Wicks, styled by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and with the personality of Gemma Collins) is a properly hiss-worthy baddie.
Dancing? Loads of it – and all good. Music? A proper orchestra, playing live. Costumes? Spandex, sequins and sparkle, lots of lurid lurex. Ballgowns with skirts too big to make it through the door of the Assembly Rooms, velvet pantaloons tight enough to make Beau Nash blush, and wigs that make you weep with either envy or hilarity, depending on your personal sense of sartorial elegance (or lack thereof).
If you’re looking for the fairest pantomime in the land this season, go with this one: it’s unabashedly upbeat, brazenly buoyant and full-on festive fabulous from the first wave of the fairy’s want all the way through to the flamboyant finale – oh yes it is.
Main image: Ben Harlow as Hugo Pompidou and the Ensemble in Beauty and The Beast. Credit: Freia Turland