Stuart Paterson’s Beauty and the Beast masterfully spins the threads of dark fantasy, pantomime slapstick and a romantic ‘happily ever after’ ending to create a production that successfully keeps both adults and children amused. This was a Christmas pantomime pared down to its bare essentials – no singing and dancing or unnecessary outlandish costumes here – leaving the original fairytale to simply shine.
There are a few characters and plot-lines added to the story that help to create a panto feel with a modern twist. The Beast, for instance, is actually a country bumpkin called Martin who Beauty first meets in the forest, where they fall in love.
There is a wicked witch, Crackjaw, who, unknown to Beauty, turns Martin into the Beast and imprisons him in her palace deep in the forest. Crackjaw then waits for Beauty to break his heart so that she can become all powerful and fulfil her desire to rid the world of children for ever.
Unfortunately for Crackjaw, when Beauty finally declares her love for the Beast, she loses all power, her spells are broken and she has to return to the well from whence she came.
In traditional panto style, the evil Crackjaw presents plenty of opportunity to boo and hiss, while Beauty’s equivalent of the two Ugly Sisters, Hannah and Hazel, provide the slapstick and humour.
The striking figure of the Beast ensures the more sinister elements of the fairytale are maintained: a huge black hairy head with horns and colossal cloven feet see him towering over the other characters, making the already petite Beauty appear to have shrunk in an Alice-like way, accentuated by the enormous chair she was given to sit on where her feet didn’t reach the ground.
It must be said that the two sisters, played by Nicola Roy and Karen Traynor, completely steal the show. The two mouthy bissoms deliver the clever script with perfect comic timing that makes you wish they were less peripheral to the plot so more could be seen of them.
In these times of economic austerity it is notably refreshing that in the end the Beast turns not into a handsome, wealthy prince, but back into Martin, who is neither glamorous nor rich – whoever heard of a prince called Martin anyway?
Similarly Beauty, having worn the traditional princess dress while staying with Beast, ends the play dressed once more in her ‘poor’ frock.
As the two set off in their rags with Martin’s gorgeous dog, Billy, to pursue their dream of roaming through villages on the other side of the mountain, there is a simple innocence grounded in reality that is never seen in your usual panto.
This sends out the much more positive message that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t necessarily mean riches, just finding the courage to follow your dreams - which has much more to do with love than money. Truly heart-warming entertainment.
Runs til 31 December