Theatre Review: Beauty and the Beast, Nottingham Arts Theatre

Last year, I took the girls to watch Jack and the Beanstalk, the annual pantomime at the Nottingham Arts Theatre.  It had been years since I saw my last panto at the Arts Theatre, but I was instantly won over by the charm and character of this traditional, community pantomime.  I knew then and there that I wanted the Arts Theatre pantomime to become part of our family traditions.  The only problem was, having loved last year’s panto so much, it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Beauty and the Beast is definitely one of my favourite fairytales, but it’s not necessarily one of my favourite pantomimes.  It doesn’t always naturally lend itself to the pantomime format and I have seen at least one version that lost the plot (so to speak)

Thankfully, the Nottingham Arts Theatre version handled the plot beautifully.  The script, co-written and directed by Amanda Hall and Matthew Wesson, takes the story back to its traditional roots, focusing on the blossoming relationship between Belle and her Beast and including forgotten characters such as Belle’s two selfish sisters.  There’s not a walking candlestick or talking teapot in sight, leaving plenty of room for romance, drama, great gags and as many pantomime tropes and traditions as you could possibly ask for.

Our heroine, Belle, is portrayed to perfection by Laura Ellis who played the role with all the compassion and grace that Belle requires, as well as giving the character plenty of spirit and determination.  This Belle is certainly no damsel in distress and is a great role model for all of the little princesses in the audience.  Ellis’s singing voice is beautifully displayed in all of her musical numbers, but especially the stunning Pure Imagination which genuinely bought a tear to my eye. 

After watching Patrick McChrystal’s fabulous performance last year as the dim-witted but loveable title character in Jack and the Beanstalk, I must admit I found it hard to imagine him in the role of Beast.  I’m beginning to get an idea of how genuinely talented an actor he is, as he effortlessly took on the role, managing to be fearsome without being too terrifying for the younger audience members.  He gave the Beast moments of vulnerability, making him a sympathetic character who Belle (and the audience) could easily fall in love with.  

Every panto needs a good dame and this year the Nottingham Arts Theatre is doling out double dose of Dame action.  Madame Macaron and Madame Eclair are played by Matthew Wesson and Mike Pearson respectively, and were definite audience favourites. 

Wesson is a consummate professional when handling the audience and had us all hanging on his every word with a constant stream of witty one-liners and hilarious ad-libs.

Pearson, who starred last year as Dame Trott, is obviously a master of his craft (or should that be mistress?) His comic timing is spot-on and watching the two Dames riff off of one another was a definite highlight of the evening for me.

Everybody who goes to the Panto is hoping for a good laugh and the Beauty and the Beast audience is spoiled for choice with comic relief provided by the principal cast.  Sean Goodwin as Idle Jacques, Mike Newbold as Alderman Claude, Cassie Hall as Philipe Phlopp and Joseph Smith as Hugo all fill the stage with character and comedy.

Alex Huntley deserves a special mention as the vain villain, Gustave for making me laugh with every lifted eyebrow and flexed muscle.  He commits 100% to every moment he is on stage and really revelled in the ridiculous nature of his character.

Belle’s cruel, self-centred sisters, Camille & Adrienne were played here by Kimberley Allsopp and Danielle Hall.  Although you might not know these two characters before you see the show, you’ll certainly remember them afterwords.  I absolutely loved the rapport between the two sisters as they bantered back and forth, not to mention the fact that both ladies have the most amazing singing voices, which were showcased brilliantly in their two show-stopping musical numbers.

Lizzie Fenner takes on the role of the Enchantress Carlotta who, after being insulted by the Prince, curses him to live as a Beast until he shows love and kindness, thus setting our story into motion.  Fenner has a commanding presence when on stage, as briefly as this may be, and she leads the big Act One closing number which is absolutely one of the most breath-taking moments in the show.

The Beauty and the Beast ensemble is made up of an adult, youth & children’s company. All of the company, from the youngest to the oldest were totally dedicated to their performances and had bundles of energy, especially during the fabulous choreography put together by Amy Rogers-Gee.

Although the set design is relatively simple, it is incredibly effective and there are some very beautiful touches.  The enchanted rose, set into one of the Chateau turrets is a particularly magical feature and captured the mood and the audience’s attention as the petals slowly fall during the course of the performance.

Music is always of vital importance in a good pantomime and you’ll find something for everyone in the selection of songs performed in Beauty and the Beast. Musical Director Ray Mcleod has done an amazing job working with the company to produce a range of stunning vocals. From up-tempo 90’s Pop music, to contemporary showtunes you’re bound to find yourself tapping your toes and, where appropriate, singing along.

Although I absolutely LOVED watching Beauty and the Beast in all of it’s glory on-stage, I have also been lucky enough this year to have been given unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the rehearsals.  It has been a real joy to watch this group of people come together over time and to see how they support and nuture each other.  The adult and youth company were always on hand to lend guidance and encouragement to the younger performers and it really felt like a little family.  This is truly a community pantomime and that just made it all the more special to see the result of all their months of hard work.

The Nottingham Arts Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast” is an absolute must-see for panto lovers, young and old and I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend you rush out to buy a ticket while there are still some left!  With prices ranging from £13-£16, “Beauty and the Beast” offers an enchanting evening of family entertainment for excellent value for money.

“Beauty and the Beast” runs until the 16th December 2018 and tickets can be purchase online from the Nottingham Arts Theatre website.

(Professional photos credit: David Ward and Gavin Mawditt.  All other photos by moi!)

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