Beauty and the Beast
Westovians at the Pier Pavilion
Jan 15th 2017
Eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning feels like a strange time to be coming to the theatre. And since for most people the Festive Season has been well and truly over for a good week at least, it feels even stranger to be coming to a Panto. We are all back at work and school with our noses to the grindstone and festive frivolity has been packed away. But not at the Pier Pavilion in South Shields - here they are just getting started! The Christmas tree is still up in the foyer and the Beauty and the Beast is set and ready to go...Oh yes! It is!
This tale as old as time makes a passing reference to the Disney version (I suppose these days all fairy tales have to, despite the tightly bound performance rights) but it is very much its own tale. Writer Philip Meeks is accomplished at writing pantomimes that draw on the original tales and cock a polite snook at the establishment.
So we have the story of Jolieville, a french town under siege by a hideous monster, and an even more hideous and corrupt Mayoress. In the town there is a beautiful girl - Belle (french for beautiful) and of course she is beautiful inside and out as true heroines in Panto always are. Only she is able to see the good inside the Beast and she sets out to prove that he is not all bad and to save him from the curse he is under. She is aided and hindered in this endeavour by various comic characters - from her father the inept Professor Baguette to friends Bertie and his mother Dame Fifi Latrine. Naturally there are many hilarious puns and word plays derived from their ludicrous panto names, and a healthy mix of fart and pee jokes for the kids and smutty innuendo for the adults. There is magic that has gone wrong, a terrible curse that must be broken and an evil sorceress who must be vanquished before everyone can live happily ever after ( hope that hasn't spoilt the ending for you all - if you've not been to a panto before you may not realise that there is always a happy ever after - that is the whole point). There also always has to be a parade of increasingly bizarre frocks for the dame, a custard pie or two in the face, and lots of booing, hissing and screaming from the audience. Am happy to report that this panto has all of the above in shed-loads.
The cast execute the whole thing well - keeping the audience engaged against all the odds at times, battling against the noise of rustling sweet wrappers and fractious toddlers, to sing dance and joke their way through the plot. David Foster as Diablo and Erin Atack as Mme Bon Bon keep the story straight so the audience know that the Beast (Ty Roach) and Belle (Ashley Mitchell) are following the plan. Craig Richardson and Stephen Sullivan are the stars of the show as Bertie and Fifi Latrine, keeping the audience involved with jokes and banter throughout. In fact I think all pantos should introduce a karejoke contest from now on. The baddies of the show are Gary Manson and Annie Cairns as Claude and Camilla Parker-Bike and they are suitably booed as their nefarious deeds unfurl. That said, the high spot of the show for me has to be Mme Fifi's duet with Professor Baguette (Mark Lamb)- you just can't fight a feeling like that and you probably shouldn't try.
Staged traditionally in January to avoid competition with other theatres in the area - perhaps most notably the Customs House just down the road - the Westovians timing is a piece of genius. Nothing lifts your spirits so well as a room full of kids (and adults) screaming "he's behind you!" at a stage sporting a man dressed as a woman with a preposterous outfit and a huge hairy monster (now, now you smuttmeisters! What did you think I was going to say?). So if you are labouring under new year blues nip along to Shields for a couple of hours of belated festive fun.
Beauty and the Beast plays until Sat 21st Jan. Tickets can be bought from the box office tel 0191 456 0980. You could do worse than buy a ticket for this (seriously, it's worth it just to see the duet!)