Tuesday, 4 January 2022

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast at The Anvil Arts Theatre

The main Pantomime season closes around New Year and as Producers breathed a sigh of relief that the Westminster Government did not close them down as the Scottish and Welsh governments did to their venues, they continue to navigate the dreaded Covid test text each morning to see if they have a full cast. UK Production’s show of Beauty and the Beast suffered the loss of its Beast allowing the understudy to move up from the Ensemble to the Title character. It adds an extra dimension to the performances and a warm appreciation from the audience so pleased that the show they booked is on.

This script by Jon Monie won a best script Pantomime award at Blackpool Grand in 2018 and had an outing at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2019 so the cast knows they are working with a solid base but as always, they have to bring the energy and timing to the stage to bring it to life successfully. Alongside the Understudy stepping in, it is pleasing to report that they rise to the challenge and deliver an upbeat romantic gentle comedy version of the story. The basic tale set in France remains but the Disney characters of Lumiere and Cogsworth are replaced by the comedy partnership of Nick Wilton as Polly La Plonk and Chris Pizzey as her son Louis, the Beast’s servants, to give it a strong pantomime feel. 

They both bring an easy gentle charm to their delivery engaging the audience with each appearance. They give us the simple “lend me 15 Euros” routine, a well-executed baking routine with plenty of silly jokes about “My-Dearer” cake and “fan” ovens and good business with a toy rabbit and of course, the evergreen Ghostbusters routine delivered with the precision and in unison with Belle. 

The whole show is staged in a wonderfully detailed false proscenium arch of the castle with practical balconies and stairs and stage left and stage right small apron stages which are very effectively used by Director Chris Pizzey. Built by the UK Production Scenic department the clever design of the village set, and castle interiors allow smooth scene changes without a half tab cloth by using the apron stages allowing the action to flow smoothly from scene to scene. It keeps the pace and energy levels up for most of the story although it does drop a little in the second half during the final reconciliation and fight with the beast. There is a bold attempt at a magical transformation back to Prince Albert as he spins in the air but it was rather laboured with the wire showing and the face mask lying on the floor afterwards. 

It was also refreshing to see strong characterisations amongst the supporting cast with the relationships between Belle (Maria Coyne), Hugo or “Ego” (Michael Quinn) and The Beast (David Eyre stepping in for Joe McFadden) well developed and acted so we see her affection and dislike of each man in her life. Eyre coped well with the role even when his personal mic failed. Michael Knibbs as Belle’s father, Clement has touching scenes with Belle and a comic routine with Louis in a prison cell. 

The music choices are good and generally flow out of the narrative well. Belle opens with “U got it bad”, Hugo with “A little less satisfaction”, Belle also sings “Let me be your star”. Act 2 opens with “Dancing on the Ceiling” with some funny business with the Dame’s legs, the Beast sings “I want it all” and they close the show with “We are young”. However, the musical highlight is the whole cast closing Act 1 with a brilliant medley from Les Mis with “One Day More “ and “Master of the House”.

This is a very well produced show, with an ensemble committed cast, wonderful settings, and good musical choices. It is perhaps ten minutes too long in the second half and could benefit from some slightly more punchy belly-laugh comedy, but it is a very entertaining telling of a “tale as old as time”. 

This production closed on the 2nd January 2022. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row J | Price of Ticket: £31
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