Sunday, 26 April 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage
16 April 2009

Christmas comes early!

This is a nice little show. It was slick, funny and colourful with engaging performances that delighted the audience.

The cast tell the classic tale with genial exuberance, but in case you’ve lived in a cave all your life with no electrical supplies to have viewed the numerous telly adaptations or the 1991 Disney version, it tells the story of a Prince who’s been turned into a Beast by an evil witch because he doesn’t fancy her. He can only turn back into a Prince if a beautiful young girl falls in love with him. And guess what – one does – eventually!

I am now going to resist the temptation to rant on about the dubious morals of this story, i.e. can men only be Princes if beautiful young women love them? Do only beautiful young women deserve to marry handsome Princes? STOP ME NOW!

My only gripe is that for an Easter show it felt distinctly seasonal, although there is nothing really wrong with that I guess. But this isn’t a panto. It looks like a panto, it feels like a panto, it has goodies and baddies , heroes and villains. The saving grace was that there were no flashing wands! But it also doesn’t have any ‘It’s behind yous’, or a dame, or a song sheet, or a ghost scene, so it’s not a panto - therefore why did I feel like I was watching one?! Maybe it was down to the fact that it was written and directed by the wonderful Gordon Craig panto legend Paul Laidlaw.

But apart from that, it’s also a feel-good show, with a moral – true beauty lies within. This was played out slightly in the casting of the Beast, because even when the talented Wesley Hughes turned into the handsome Prince, he was frankly a tad generously proportioned, but in a normal bloke / comforting kind of way. Nothing wrong with that of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a slight double chin. But he was a nice bloke, with a fantastic voice of course, and that’s what matters. And I also think that this was inspired casting because it kept to the theme of the play. Why should the beautiful heroine only ever get to marry those with chiselled features?

The heroine, Belle, was charmingly played by Katie Lavelli and the arrogant Anton, the Beast’s competitor for her affections was played by Nathan Lubbock-Smith, in a very impressive performance that included so much charm and humour that you didn’t know whether to love or hate him!

The good humour and panto-like joie-de-vivre permeated the whole show and the use of familiar songs with slightly changed words added to the illusion. But they were all great renditions and the hilariously camp “Everybody ought to have a maid” brought the house down.

This was an amiable, enchanting evening which proved to be a real audience pleaser and put me right in the mood for Christmas, albeit some eight months early!

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