Beauty and the Beast
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Sunday 19 January 2020
This is the fifteenth consecutive pantomime that Michael Harrison has written, directed and produced. Each one has featured the talents of the father and son double act called Clive Webb and Danny Adams. They are now central to the panto chaos in what has become, in terms of sales, the most successful pantomime in North East history. Clearly the team are getting something right. There is a reason why customers will already be organising tickets for next year’s pantomime Humpty Dumpty. So, what makes the panto juggernaut that rolls into Newcastle’s Grey Street venue every year such a massive draw?
The grand venue is a perfect location for one of the most lavish productions that is created here in the North East. The costumes and sets are stunning. The cast look amazing in their many outfits. The stunning look of the show is part of the magic. Danny Adams does perform some tricks but the show no longer relies on gimmicks like 3D scenes. What it does rely on is a strong narrative and, unlike some pantos, it sticks to telling the story.
What this production has always done consistently, year after year, is refine the comedy, the routines – those apparent “accidents” – to within an inch of their lives. Even though tonight is just a few nights into the run, we show a highly polished and well crafted show. Nothing is left to chance – the customers have paid good money and this production delivers the show that they expect. Unlike football – the audience are guaranteed to be supporting the winning team.
The show opens with narration from regular Steve Arnott as Dashing Dick The Candlestick and Reece Sibbald as his ornamental friend Mr Tock, the Talking Clock. They start the plot at the beginning: belligerent Prince Sebastian (Chris Cowley) refuses to help out an old lady who happens to be The Enchantress (Nicola Meehan) and a spell is put on him and the staff that are present at his home. This results in the Prince becoming the Beast and has staff turning into the ornaments that they attend to. Fortunately, Danny the servant was watching the Toon play so he wasn’t affected. He fancies local Geordieville girl Belle (Laura Evans) but her Dad Crazy Clive The Inventor (Clive Webb) is having none of it.
Panto needs a bad guy and this comes in the form of Elvis throwback Flash Harry (Wayne Smith) who makes approaches on every lady in town, including Belle. We also need a panto Dame and, in a different amazing outfit every time you see him, Chris Hayward appears in the Beast’s castle as Mrs Rita Potty. Completing the cast as the Castle Idiot is Michael Potts and an ensemble of 8 talented dancers.
The show also features a live band under Musical Director Ian Townsend who keep up with the chaos and calamity as it unfolds on stage. They obviously back the singing but also build the tension around, for example, the knife throwing antics.
Sure, some of the jokes are as old as panto itself but this show tries to do things differently. A number of shows will pull items out of a shopping trolley as the comic tells a story about their life, but here Danny used a set of flags to do the same.
The show runs at 2 hours 15 including interval which is ideal for panto as many in the audience are young and you don’t want a show running over an hour per act if you can help it. Suitability wise, the adults laughed at plenty of jokes and the youngsters seemed to love Danny Adam’s (and Michael Potts) crazy antics. There is a heavy measure of innuendo but that tier of humour will fly straight over the head of the very youngest members of the audience.
So, there you have it. A lavish show with the very highest of production values. It is proudly routed in the venue’s local roots, as the Wallsend-born writer retains the Geordie dialect in the script for the local actors and the region features in a couple of songs. It left the audience very happy and wanting more – which they’ll get when they return, once again, next year. This show’s success is no accident!
Review by Stephen Oliver
Captioned & Audio Described performance: Tue 10 Dec 2019, 7pm
Relaxed Performance: Tue 14 Jan 2020, 12pm.