Panto season is Christmas season is panto season: as a relative newcomer to York (a mere 13 years), ‘pantomime’ once meant some silent guy in whiteface waving his arms and pouting.
Beauty And The Beast
Grand Opera House, York
Till Jan 3
Here of course, panto is an art form with specific elements: a dame, a villain, a clown, a good fairy, and a pair of would-be young lovers.
This Three Bears Production of Beauty And The Beast also boasts celebrity power: Anthony Costa of the hit singing group Blue, and Debbie McGee, fresh from Strictly Come Dancing, among others.
This is a traditional panto, with lavish sets, audience participation, and a few naughty jokes (all in good fun), truly geared toward the whole family.
The children in the audience gazed with rapt attention, no wiggling in their seats; and gave out great hearty shouts when called to boo at Wizadora (Lynne McGranger) or to holler, “Oh no, you didn’t!”
Really top notch
Everything about this production is outstanding. The sets are sumptuous, and the choreography (Emily Taylor) is brilliant, really top notch.
The show is filled with hilarious gags, with delicious delivery by Dame Misrabelle (Steve Wickenden: keep an eye on him), bad fairy Wizadora Crabapple, and clown Seymour Bottom (Stuart Wade).
Seymour to a man in the audience: “And how are you, sir?” [Man twists desperately to see if Seymour means someone else] “No, no one can save you now, my friend!”
Snappy repartee between adversaries includes, “Why do you instantly dislike me?” “Saves time!” and “I’m not happy!” “Oh? Which one are you, then?”
Here and there are the good natured flubs that make every panto unique, and also joyous community events: the in-jokes, adlibs, and nods to local issues (such as parking) or events (such as cricket).
The bad are bad (till they aren’t), the goofball servant by turns crafty, brave, loyal, and hilarious; the Dame shimmers in glittery costume creations, simpers with innuendo.
Panto is unique to Britain and the commonwealth: if the boy and the girl fall in love astonishingly fast, well, it’s a kid’s show with a minimum of yucky romance, with everything sorted by 9pm.
All costumes are dazzling, with the Candlestick, in a well-designed homage to the Disney cartoon, particularly effective.
The young dancers are well rehearsed and in top form, and are clearly enjoying themselves. Even the little ones invited on stage near the end (Oscar and Freya) are charming: they’ve had a great time, and it shows.
Anthony Costa brings celebrity star power to his Beast and petulant Prince, as does Debbie McGee to her Adorabella Angelpie.
Costa and McGee are clearly enjoying themselves, and I was delighted McGee made it to the stage despite remnants of flu, on the back of Strictly.
Hooray for ‘Doctor Footlights’, the miraculous stage cure that permits actors and dancers to go on, despite almost anything. Her natural poise (and that kick!) carries the day.
Lynne McGranger as the bad fairy Wizadora Crabapple, claims she lives in Oz and York (“every Christmas”). She has a standout song with the chorus: “Just a little bit bad, just a little bit evil,” reminding us she’s an excellent singer. Potty T Potts (Audrey Leybourne) exudes joy.
Beauty, aka Belle (Charlotte MacLachlan), sings with crystal clarity and brings (eventually!) a dash of feminist rebellion at the daft notion of marrying someone she does not love just to please her father: sticking up for herself is more recognisable to the little lasses in this modern audience than a ‘traditionally’ obedient female.
Her singing voice is among the strongest here, though everyone shines.
A joy to watch
Stuart Wade (Seymour Bottom), the comic lead, is also the director. He’s on stage almost every scene. His humour is broad and clearly transmitted and yet he’s also a good actor and a joy to watch.
Anton (Sam Wall) has the shortest resumé but is excellent: like Gascon in the Disney version, Anton’s a womanizer, in love with himself more than anyone else, who only wants Belle for a possession. Wall has great fun with the role and so do we.
Ken Morley (Baron Maurice) plays the disastrous father who gets Beauty into the whole mess by trying to marry her off. Morley is a smooth, gifted actor who flings slapstick and asides with precision.
The Dame Misrabelle (Steve Wickenden) can sneer or smirk with panache, and convey pages of dialogue with one raised eyebrow.
This is Wickenden’s second year as a dame, and one feels witness to the start of a long, illustrious career.
Treat for the family
Beauty and The Beast is traditional panto, even as far as the good fairy always entering from stage right and the bad from stage left.
This production also is truly for children: the programme, with a cover designed by eight-year-old Zoë Baker, is filled with colourful puzzles and games for kids, and the story is simplified for silly fun and also to make it less scary and easier to follow.
It’s a treat for the whole family: a traditional panto with exquisite costumes and brilliant choreography, with top-notch acting, and hilarious jokes. What are you waiting for?