Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: April 3 2015
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool, England
It’s the Easter season again, and for the second consecutive year, the Epstein Theatre decided to celebrate the occasion with a unique pantomime performance, this time of Beauty & The Beast. Featuring several notable names, as well as talented local performers, the show promised to deliver a good amount of entertainment and Easter cheer for spectators of all ages, and so it proved when I attended on Good Friday.
Beauty & The Beast essentially tells the story of how a young prince falls in love with a beautiful village girl, but problems arise when the prince is cast under an evil spell by a wicked enchantress, which changes his physical and facial features, turning him into a hideous-looking beast. In the meantime, another cocky young prince meets the girl and declares his love for her, but it becomes obvious that her true affections lie solely with the original man of her dreams. As such, she makes it her quest to rescue him from the enchantress’ evil spell.
But wait! The second “bachelor” is owed money by the girls’ father, and so the plot eventually sees the father captured by the enchantress, who is on the same side as the new, arrogant prince. Long story short: the girl and her friends look to rescue both her father and her original love, but they eventually encounter both the enchantress and the new prince, leading to a series of developments that make the audience question who will succeed and who will fail. That it is a pantomime should telegraph the likely outcome, but that does not affect the entertainment provided along the way.
Indeed, while the story has been reproduced on film and television to be somewhat serious and even emotional, here the emphasis is purely on entertaining the audience. As such, the key moments are surrounded by one-liners and deliberately absurd facial expressions; musical numbers ranging from those made famous by the performers (more on that later) to popular songs in the current charts; and situations made more humorous by the use of local dialect and double entendres. The formula ensures that while the children are engaged by the plot and the wacky goings-on of the over-the-top characters, the adults in attendance also enjoy the show for its humour and its subtle references to, erm, suggestive situations.
As stated, the cast includes some notable performers. Ritchie Neville of the pop group 5ive is the most well-known member of the cast, and here he plays Anton, the new prince who tries somewhat devilishly to achieve the love of his life. This was Ritchie’s panto debut, and he performed very well for a first-timer, especially considering that as a villain he is playing against type (indeed, music stars generally try not to deliberately upset their audience, unless your name is Kanye West). Belle, the village girl, is played brilliantly by Alison Crawford, a previous semi-finalist on Grease Is The Word and a star of the Christmas panto Jack & The Beanstalk. She perfectly toys the line between being sweet and beautiful, but also alert and being keenly aware of local culture and jokes. As such, she receives the “right” reaction from the audience: she is likeable and a positive figure, but not to the point where it becomes a turn-off.
Of the supporting cast, the character which most spectators will remember the most when they come away from the show is Madam Dolly Doughnut, played by Michael Chapman. Chapman, who as the name suggests is dressed as a female, is a frequent fixture of the Empire’s seasonal plays, and essentially plays the same character; however, each time, it works. To be honest, the character is mostly irrelevant to the plot, but it succeeds by adding scouse slang, humorous one-liners and risque statements (yes, it’s Dolly who is responsible for the double entendres), and by his mannerisms and dialogue, he basically adds a huge amount of entertainment to scenes which otherwise may struggle to keep the viewers engaged. He also gets younger members of the audience involved towards the end in an interactive portion of the show. To sum up Dolly, it’s a character which is not essential to the storyline, but is essential to the enjoyment of the show as a whole.
So, how to summarise Beauty & The Beast? Well, I can provide a perspective, but as the target audience consists of children, I obtained the opinions of the two young family members who attended the show alongside me. Asked to describe this show, they used three words: “Splendid”, “Magnificent” and “Outstanding”. And if the show works for them, then the show is definitely a success. Beauty & The Beast runs until Sunday April 12 (click here to learn ticket details); it’s not too late to enjoy this “Egg-ceptional” Easter pantomime.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding