Beauty and the Beast is in keeping with the best of traditional pantomimes in staying close to key aspects of the original fairy story but enhancing it with modern spin underpinned by slapstick, childish and grown-up, even occasionally “adult” humour. It was fortunate it was funny for the grannies as well as the younger mums and dads in the audience, and that it kept the children and babies yelling loudly, because otherwise an oldie like me would never have stayed awake for as long as I did, so soporifically warm is the Shaw Theatre, and so cosy and comfortable are the seats.
For class, the cast of this show is up there with Strictly and I’m a Celebrity. It feels like a privilege just to watch such people as former Oompa Loompa, Gringotts Bank teller and Star Wars droid Rusty Goffe translated into real flesh, a few metres away on the London stage. For the Young Set child ensemble dancers, a few of them quite gifted in their own right, to work with some of this talent in this show and to learn and understanding of how comedy works on stage must be life-changing.
Alison Hammond lives up to the second half of her name as Fairy Scintillate. As a fairy, however, she is fantastically comic, half the joke being obviously that she looks nothing like we might expect a fairy to look, and the other half coming from her irrepressible joie de vivre that means she works a magic on the stage that is more than fantasy. CJ de Mooi is comically evil and blessedly handsome as Viscount Victor, proof, if it were needed in our modern world, that an audience will forgive an actor anything, even being the baddie, if he has a twinkle in his eye and can make them laugh. He reminded me a little of Rylan Clark, except CJ can sing and act. But most thrilling of all was the complete brilliance of the classically-trained countertenor Rodney Ward as Madame Fifi. He’s got to be one of the nation’s best panto dames on the present scene and every child in the country should have a chance to see him. Repeated costume confections, each hat and super-fascinator more ridiculous and dress more outrageous than the last, threatened to steal the show for her extraordinary outfits. At one point, the Dame had an entire vase, complete with flowers, on her head.
And then there was Oliver Meredith as Prince Louis-Pierre, the only beast I’ve ever seen who actually looked more handsome as the beast than the man. I was not at all sure this was intentional but it was still quite funny. “I don’t care if he’s not handsome and rich so long as he’s caring, honest and kind,” said classic blonde Beauty, Rosie Taylor. That was lucky then. This remark was one of a few not quite believable incursions into pc panto land. It was hard, given all this comic genius on the stage, for Coronation Street’s Buffo the Jester to make his mark as the official funny guy and it is possibly just another joke, that the jester is not the most hilarious character. But given that this in itself was quite funny, it is probably not critically accurate to suggest that Buffo was not enough of a buffoon and of course the sadness of the clown is itself an inescapable tradition of the genre. In any case he did get us, the audience, going madly and pleasurably wild with the traditional pantomime audience responses. Oh yes indeed.
The jokes were great and kept on coming. “I was once in love with a girl with a wooden leg.” “What happened?” “She broke it off.” Or: “When you’ve seen one shopping centre, you’ve seen the mall.” Some people might imagine that when they’ve seen one Beauty, one Cinderalla, they’ve seen them all. But for those of us who look like grown-ups on the outside, but still harbour those crazy children on the inside where nothing is as it seems and nothing can be taken seriously, there are never too many pantomimes and this one joins the many of its kind – classical, original, crazy and seriously funny.
Review by Ruth Gledhill who you can follow on:
Book tickets to see Beauty and The Beast and other productions at
Wednesday 20th December 2012