BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
by Ben Crocker music by Sarah Travis.
The Theatre 2 Spring Street OX7 5NL To 8 January 2011.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01608 642350.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 December.
Far more beautiful than beastly.
Ooh, la, la; this year’s Chipping Norton pantomime has a faint, if intermittent French flavour, what with its setting in Bonbonbury – and if self-comparisons with the haughteur of Stow-sur-le-Wold might make the people of Banbury cross, it’s a colourful place, no less so for Billy Riddoch’s dame, a look and sound-alike for the late film and TV comedian Terry Scott: so, cross-dressed and inter-national.
Scotland’s Riddoch brings a popular music-hall zest scaled perfectly for this space. Ben Crocker’s script allows panto expectations fair scope, though this Beauty’s real beauty is the way the fun fits with strong storytelling that often takes audiences beyond the tried and trusted.
Crocker can, though, appear undecided what to do with his narrator and manipulator of audience responses, French poodle Chipie, who Matt Pinches gives a life beyond the stuck-up poodle silhouettes demonstrated near the start as cut-outs from a story-book, while insisting the story’s really his. Well, up to a point – though full of energy when around, he disappears for a long stretch.
Still, that gives some room for Stacey Cadman’s politically-correct female blacksmith Capucine – like Lottie Gilmore’s less defined Beauty, young, trim and blonde, with not a smut on her forehead – and art deco-garbed villainess Malabelle, clearly on the evil side as she’s tall and dark. Basienka Blake might relish her role, and the audience’s vociferous hostility, earlier and more thoroughly, but all these strong performances help the story.
Though some characters have more interest than there’s room to develop, Crocker’s right to keep events moving forwards. He allows sightings of the Prince before and, intriguingly, in Beauty’s imagination, during his spell as the Beast. Rowan Talbot’s heavy, bent movement and thickened, low voice clearly distinguish the creature from the human. There’s a real agony when he tries prompting Beauty to find the Prince by seeing with heart rather than eyes. John Terry’s admirable production has moments of ghostly comedy, and thrills – as when Beauty sets off through the auditorium on a stormy journey to a sinister palace revealed suddenly on stage. With Russell Craig’s set and Amy Southeard’s lighting, it’s among many beastly images, beautifully staged.
Chipie/Talking Clock: Matt Pinches.
Jacques/Remy: Sam Pay.
Capucine/Aimee: Stacey Cadman.
Malabelle: Basienka Blake.
Ma: Billy Riddoch.
Beauty: Lottie Gilmore.
Prince/Beast: Rowan Talbot.
Pippins: Steak Hache Team: Hannah Anson, Isobel Powley, Will Young, Dylan Hay.
Croissant Team: Elizabeth Moulson, Emily Marven, Erin Lilley, James Hastings.
Fromage Team: Rhiannon Fitzgerald, Beth Hill, Maddy Meeson, Rebecca Witchell.
Director: John Terry.
Designer: Russell Craig.
Lighting: Amy Southeard.
Musical Direrctors: Sarah Hind, Peter Pontzen.
Choreographer/Assistant director: Lucy Hind.
Costume: Nell Knudsen.