Kieran Sutcliffe as Dame Derrière, plus junior dancers

Beauty and the Beast at Watersmeet

15th December 2017

Review by David Shadwick

The festive season really isn’t complete without a dose of panto. It’s a very British institution, as traditional as turkey, mince pies and carols. And Watersmeet’s latest offering, Beauty and the Beast, courtesy of Jordan Productions, is about as traditional as it gets.

With plenty of opportunities for audience participation (cheering the hero, booing the villain and generally entering into the silliness of it all), it’s up to us, the audience, to help add extra energy to the fun and frolics from this small, but hard working cast. Everything about this slick production is unashamedly family friendly, assisted by a particularly witty and well written script, conventional in its influences and steering well clear of Disney.

Visually, it’s easy on the eye. Costumes and scenery are colourful in picture book style, and the numerous changes of location are handled remarkably swiftly, considering the limited resources available at this venue. Initially I think everything is over-amplified, but after a while the sound balance does settle. There is some impressive cueing of a multitude of sound effects throughout, and the tiny band provides a solid backing to all the musical numbers.

From the first appearance of Fairy Formidable, complete with French accent and heralded with the obligatory pyro flash, to the Evil Malevolent, always bathed in a green spot, and the communal sing-song, this production definitely delivers what’s expected.

‘Our tale takes place in France,’ we are told, so starting the show with a musical number from Oliver does feel a little out of place. The eight junior girl dancers are suitably bright and well drilled, but the quartet of ensemble dancers (two guys and two girls) fronting all the musical numbers just don’t dazzle. They really aren’t helped by the choreography either.

Dave Bibby really shines as Potty Pierre. His energy drive and enthusiasm don’t let up. He has a natural likability factor and the kids delight in screaming out ‘Oui Oui’ every time he bounds on stage shouting ‘you all right, gang?’ There is great chemistry between him and Dame Derrière (Kieran Sutcliffe). Sporting a different outrageous costume on nearly every entrance, Sutcliffe also seems to be having a whale of a time. Together, their accelerating tongue-twisting patter, the cleverly crafted ‘dotty’s spotty potty’, was hilarious, and the ‘plate’ sequence bringing carnage to the palace bring genuine squeals of delight from the younger members of the audience, as proceedings get more and more out of control.

Headliner Sue Holderness (Only Fools and Horses) shows her vast experience, turning in a suitably evil performance as Malevolent. Relishing the ‘boos and hisses’ on her every appearance she always brings an air of authority and power.

Adam McNab makes a good commanding Prince Gallant/Beast. A great song choice in Rag and Bone Man’s I’m only Human perfect for the Beast, and sung with a suitably deep rich vocal. As Beauty, Katie Ray is bright and cheerful and looks every inch the part and, when in song, proves an impressive vocalist to boot.
Beauty and the Beast may not quite have the spectacle or familiarity of Cinderella or Aladdin, but it’s great to see a classic fairy tale given the Jordan panto treatment. This two and a half hours, packed full of family fun, just whizzes by.

Oh yes it does…

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