Paul T Davies reviews Beauty and the Beast, this year’s Christmas pantomime offering from the Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
The feeling of anticipation is always high with the Mercury pantomime, the standard has been exceptional in recent years. And here we go again, it’s a brilliant celebration of the silly, the scary, the festive season and audience participation! Not normally a panto story, Andrew Pollard has skilfully adapted the tale of Belle and her beast to panto land, and all the tropes remain intact, oh yes, they do! And it’s a sweet shop-owning Dame that charges the show forward!
Central to the heart of the Mercury shows, and in the hearts and laughter lines of the audience, is the now legendary pairing of Anthony Stuart-Hicks and Dale Superville. Hicks, for my money the best Dame in the country, takes charge of the stage and auditorium as soon as Betty Bon Bon tears onto the stage. Never underestimate the skills of a Dame as good as this, never go to the loo or arrive late when she is on stage- you will be told off! Every bloke in the audience relaxes as soon as Hick selects Bon Bon’s male victim in the audience-all done with such good nature and within a sweet wrapper’s width of crossing the line!
Superville is excellent as Bon Bon’s son Almonde, children love his playfulness, and only he can make parents forgive their children for shouting out “poo poo”! Belle, in this version, is his sister, and it’s a confident and winning panto debut from Alexandra Borredo, with a beautiful voice and coping well with the improvisations of her co-stars! Star of the show, however, is Jaimie Pruden as Spite, an excellent “baddie”, with a superb singing voice and relishing the boos from the audience, she is the best villain at the Mercury for a couple of years. Daniel Jagusz-Holley is an equally excellent Beast, I did wonder if he could have been scarier, but, judging by the reactions of the children around me, he stayed on the right side of scary, bringing a sweet kindness to the role. All this badness is balanced out beautifully by Sasha Latoya’s Good Fairy Cupid.
The song list, unusually for the Mercury, is quite retro, and there isn’t much that younger members of the audience can sing along to, and the show starts with La Vie En Rose, (this is, after all, Paris, Colchester!), and the show takes a while to get going. However, Spite’s stunning rendition of the Alanis Morrissette classic You Oughta Know is worth being taken back too, and every English person surely know Sweet Caroline! The production also feels a little less spectacular than previous years, though there is some very clever tricks employed, and a big shout out to the costume department who have done an excellent job, not least with Bon Bon’s selection box of outfits! All in all, it’s a much-needed escape from reality, and an absolute joy, well done to the entire company.