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Review: Beauty And The Beast at South Shields Westovian Theatre

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Seaside Panto Hits The Right Note

Beauty And The Beast
South Shields Westovian Theatre
Until Saturday 21st January 2017

With tickets at £9 (or less for children), colourful characters and a constant stream of jokes, it is easy to see why the theatre was packed even though it was a 11am matinee show. This venue has been on our “to-do” list for some time and we were pleased to finally visit the coastal theatre.

Our first impression is that they have genuinely tried to make the theatre/panto experience affordable. The teas/coffees were just a pound and the choc ices were 50p. We splashed out on very yummy “cornetto” type ice creams at £1 a go. The programme too is just a pound.

The auditorium itself does have that “end of the pier” theatre feel about it – especially when the venue is full of excitable children. The programme states that this is an “amateur production of a pantomime by Philip Meeks” but a quick scan at the programme shows that a number of professionals are involved. For example, director Gareth Hunter has done a number of shows at the Customs House, including The Cinder Path.

First on stage is Erin Atack as the good Madame Bon Bon and she is quickly followed by the evil Mr Diablo (David G Foster) who gets plenty of booing through the show without milking it too much. The evil characters continue with the Mayor Camila (Annie Cairns) and her brother Claude (Gary Manson). This pair are dressed up as Maggie Thatcher and Austin Powers for some reason and they get their fair share of the hostile reception that the kids in the audience love dishing out.  

The good guys include, of course, the Panto Dame and her son. These 2 crucial roles are capably filled by Stephen Sullivan, as Dame Fifi, and Craig Richardson, as Bertie. This double act have the bulk of the jokes and the audience participation. They come across as comfortable with the necessary ad-libbing that is necessary as the audience don’t necessarily stick to the script. Stephen has to make a “Bernie Clifton” entrance at the start and then coping in high heels for the rest of the set whilst keeping the jokes flowing – and not falling over. Craig quickly gets the younger members of the audience on side. The French setting of the story is used to milk a number of Oui! Oui! Jokes.

The show has a few songs, backed by a live band under musical director Johnny Winter. The bulk of the singing is handled by Ashley Mitchell, as Belle, and Ty Roach, as the Beast himself. Later on we do get a fun rock ballad number from Dame Fifi and Prof Baguette (Mark Lamb). At this point it is worth reflecting upon the director’s note in the programme. Beauty and the Beast, the story, existed long before the Disney Corporation got their animated hands on it.  Published in 1740, the story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve was based upon a 4000 year old tale. Having said that, for most kids (and adults alike), it is best known as a Disney story. My wife suggested the outfits had more than a passing resemblance to the animated film, I think they had plenty in common with my old Ladybird book of the story. Either way, this show is not about the Disney film and hence features different music. The song choices worked well and were comfortably handled by the cast.

Completing the cast are a number of young actors, such as the plucky Millie (Darcy Shaw) and a revolving cast of young dancers under the choreography of Lisa Millar. In their bright outfits they did a good job of entertaining everyone and the older dancers had a chance to shine in the spotlight in the later Imps scene, which was a nice touch.

The one little issue we did have was over the sound. At the back of the room, some of the dialogue and punch lines were missed in a room full of sweet wrappers and excited kids. We’re not saying the kids should be quiet – definitely not. It would have helped if there was a little more amplification at the back of the room. We are also amazed that there is no online booking available. There again, if it is a choice between an expensive computer system and raising prices then perhaps this theatre has made a good decision.
The show has been crafted by people who understand and love the format. It was a good laugh (unlike some bigger productions) and represents fabulous value for money when compared to a football match or a 3D blockbuster movie (again, unlike some bigger productions). Special effects may be limited to a large explosion and a wine bottle trick (I’d love to know he did that) but the intimate joke fest was fun. No jokes were too rude for the younger children either though, I’d imagine, you’d have to be a certain age to understand some of them. Sure, as they point out at the start of the second act, a thin story is padded out, but Disney made a career out of that. The running time of about 2 hours plus interval is about right for a kids show.

All in all, a great panto, full of mayhem, for the family to enjoy.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

Character List:

    Director - Gareth Hunter

    Belle - Ashley Mitchell
    Beast - Ty Roach
    Baguette - Mark Lamb
    Dame Fifi - Stephen Sullivan
    Bertie - Craig Richardson
    Claude - Gary Manson
    Fairy Bonbon - Erin Atack
    Millie - Darci Shaw
    Diablo - David Foster
    Camilla - Annie Cairns
    Fairy Oolala - Nieve Murphy/Katie Reed


Show ticket prices: £9.00 (Adult) - £7.00 (Children - Under 12yrs).

There are no facilities for card payments at the Westovian Theatre Box Office - cash sales only please.
Westovian Theatre Box Office, Pier Pavilion, Pier Parade, South Shields, NE33 2JS, Box Office tel. 0191 456 0980. It is open each performance (6.30pm - 8pm).

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