WEDNESDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2016 – Everyman Liverpool – Review by Tate James, originally written for The Reviews Hub.
If you seek singing teapots and a mob of angry villagers then this is not the night for you. If you seek a multi-talented cast to make you laugh and wow with impressive vocals then the Everyman’s Alternative Christmas offering could be.
There’s Belle, a magical rose and a Beast transformed by the spell of an evil witch, a spell which only True Love’s Kiss can lift. That is where the similarities with the tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ we know end, as the Souvenir Programme foreword confesses. In this version, Belle is our Dame, the heroine’s mother, stranded on an island with only her Brother-In-Law Sebastian and a fearsome Beast. The Beast is King Tyrell, punished by the evil witch Narcissus, desperate to rule over the mortal and fairy worlds combined. With no enchanted crockery in sight, the powers of good come from a group of fairies watching over the helpless mortals. There’s a magic mirror, the pool of life, fairy moon cycles, growth potions, the list goes on… So it is easy to understand why some of the younger audience members struggle to keep up with the intricate storyline in the first half. Thankfully the second half brings us more of the silliness we’d expect: slapstick, shout outs, brilliantly unnecessary musical outbursts and the all important (say it with me) “Audience Participation Bit”.
The Everyman has assembled a wonderful cast of actor-musicians to delight their audiences this year, with many of the 10-strong company playing multiple instruments alongside their accomplished singing prowess. Stephanie Hockley as our heroine Rose White is every bit the perfect Panto Princess, in fine voice and utterly charming next to the towering stature of Raj Paul’s Beast. Adam Keast and Francis Tucker, as camp comic and butch Dame respectively, present much of the evening’s comedy, culminating in a highly amusing Identical-Twins-Reunited sequence. Their constant stream of effortless innuendo slips right over the heads of the younger ones and knocks right into the funny bones of the older ones. Lucy Thatcher’s evil queen is beautifully wicked and her yellow-clad bewitched sidekick, Tom Connor as Sir Cyril of the Wirral, plays his part and his electric guitar with great skill. Lauren Silver’s good fairy brings a magical warmth to proceedings and the talented ensemble is rounded off with excellent cameos from Danny Burns and Emmy Stonelake in a multitude of roles providing some of the standout moments of the night. Watch out for Stonelake’s Magic Mirror and soul-filled rendition of “Proud Mary”.
Dinah England’s design is exquisite, each fabulous costume more silly and extravagant than the last and the multipurpose set bedecked in twinkling lights boasts an accessible area for the musicians to come and go between their acting scenes, a constant reminder of how important music is in this Rock ’n’ Roll extravaganza. Under Greg Last’s direction, the musical arrangements are intelligent and impressive, even if there are a few too many songs, particularly in the long first half. The joy of pantomime is its decision not to take itself too seriously and for the silliness to out-balance the plot. This production has all of the right ingredients and though the final potion is delightful, the spell is over-complicated.
As Fairy Poppy says “All it takes is True Love’s Kiss… so get stuck in”