Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: December 7 2017
Location: The Black-E, Liverpool
A modern, localised and charming retelling of the classic story Beauty & The Beast is currently being performed at the Black-E in Liverpool. Produced by Siobhan Noble and James Lacey, it brings the true spirit of Christmas along with some funky dance moves, some humorous situations and plenty of outrageous moments and one-liners to deliver a fantastic pantomime experience.
This version of Beauty & The Beast tells the story of Belle Vale (Tori Hargreaves), and her father Egbert (Alan Stocks) attempting to benefit from his next major invention, “Top Trumps” whoopie cushions. He also wants to find a rose for Belle, in the face of insults and adversity from her two sisters Toxteth (Maia Johnson) and Croxteth (Billiejo Fairclough). In the meantime, however, a spell by Fairy Rose Lane (Helen Carter) goes disastrously wrong, causing The Prince (Nick Langmead) to transform into a horrid Beast, who rules the kingdom with an iron fist and has his minions, particularly Dame Dolly (Jamie Greer) and Basic Bertie (Adam McCoy), perform his every wish.
Consequently, conflict is created when Egbert gets lost in the woods and finds himself trapped in the Beast’s lair. Fairy Rose tries to help but to no avail, partly because of a huge rose hanging in the forest, whereby every petal lost is one step closer to near-apocalypse for the village (it also leads to Dolly and Bertie’s costumes changing regularly, from a Coke machine to a superlambanana to a giant cake). Belle learns of her father’s plight and rushes to help, only to attract the wrath of the Beast. Over time, however, a romance develops, unbeknownst to the villagers who believe they are helping by trying to free Belle and kill the Beast. They are led by Garston (Ciaran Kellgren), a self-proclaimed and delusional ladies’ man who believes that Belle is madly in love with her, and influenced by his similarly-stupid friends Norris (Brandon Incles) and Zak (Kai Grosscurth).
The show is a little long, coming close to 2 ½ hours, and it takes a bit of time to find its groove, but it’s more than made up by the general enthusiasm of the cast and the increasingly-humorous situations which come up. The use of local areas as character names is clever, particularly Belle Vale for the Princess and Norris for a character who more often than not dons green attire. Dame Dolly and Basic Bertie deliver plenty of laughs during their interplay, occasionally of the risqué variety, and it’s also funny to see Garston try and convince himself that he’s the fittest lad around when no lady around seems truly interested in him.
The Black-E setting was also interesting, as it meant that the cast were performing to all four sides as opposed to one. This meant that there was no true backdrop for the location, but the use of such props as the hanging rose and dinner tables, along with the physical activity of the performers themselves overcame this. It also led to increased audience interaction, occasionally of the unplanned kind, as several parents and kids needed to walk by the stage when going to get refreshments or visit the restrooms, along with some kids shouting out humorous remarks during certain scenes. There was also comedy during the kids-sing-along scene towards the end, with several children delivering some of the night’s funnier quips.
Elsewhere, the singing was very good, especially by Tori Hargeaves and Helen Carter, both of whom showed star potential both in their acting and their musical renditions. The use of lighting effects was clever considering the surroundings, and for the audience themselves, being so close to the performers worked well as it got everybody involved in some way, as well as ensuring that you were focusing on every area of the stage as opposed to just one central spot. The costumes were very good, if a little recycled at times, and the final scene had the audience up on their feet dancing and singing along. Minor downsides were some audio difficulties near the beginning, and other slight technical hitches with the rose petals (which Fairy Rose dealt with very well, using comedy to acknowledge the situations), along with some songs being used several times rather than having a larger range of popular numbers. However, the positives outweighed the negatives by far for this show.
There are many pantomimes set to be held across Merseyside this Christmas, but I would definitely suggest that you take the family along to attend this version of Beauty & The Beast. It’s something different yet reassuringly familiar at the same time, it delivers a lot of laughs and a fair amount of unpredictability, and it allows the audience to all walk away with smiles on their faces. It’s a real credit to the producers and the performers, and it earns my recommendation as a panto that people young and old will truly enjoy.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good