Review – Beauty and the Beast

November 22, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩   Tremendous traditional entertainment

Mark Kirkbride (Renee) and Eleanor Watson (Aimee). Photo © Saughtonhall Drama Group

Saughtonhall Church Hall
Wed 20 – Sat 23 November 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Bringing Christmas cheer to the month of November, Saughtonhall Drama Group’s Beauty and The Beast has just about everything you could wish for in a traditional pantomime.

Even if Beauty and The Beast is not one of the big panto stories, it is well enough known in its various forms to be of use.  The script, which is a ‘bought-in’ effort from Ben Crocker, is functional without being outstanding.

Fortunately, it leaves room for the occasional local reference and contains all of the elements of the traditional panto – a traditional Dame, rewritten songs, topical references, anthropomorphic animals, booing and hissing, community singing, the ‘behind you…’ refrain. The only thing really missing is that apparently endangered species the Principal Boy.

However, the first half spends too long setting up the story. For example, showing how the Prince came to be transformed into the Beast is far from necessary. There are other redundant elements such as Beauty’s Ma pretending to be her father, meaning the Dame is now supposedly dressed as a man, which does not quite come off. The lack of pace at times in this first act means that the dialogue does not always have the necessary zip and sparkle despite the best efforts of the cast.

There are no such problems in the second half, however. The comedy items rattle along, with plenty of audience participation, while the contrasting scenes featuring Beauty and the Beast have real pathos and feature the outstanding musical number of the night in their duet based on Pink’s Learn To Love Again.

The performances are full of energy and comic skill. The highlight is undoubtedly John Webster’s Dame, displaying all of the necessary physicality, enviable timing and a tremendous rapport with the audience. He is well backed up by Murray Petrie as the talking poodle Felix, who also displays considerable comic gifts. Gavin Watson, as Beauty’s glaikit brother Jacques, and Bethany Laing (his love interest Capucine) also add considerably to the laughs, particularly in the forest scene with its enthusiastic audience participation.

The comparatively straight roles of the title characters could be overshadowed, but Charlotte Dalgliesh provides a genuinely likeable heroine. Scott Kerr, meanwhile, is far from the first actor to discover that it can be easier to act with a mask on; his Beast mixes humour with genuine emotion to the extent that it is almost a disappointment when he returns to his human state.

There is no such thing as a small role

Estelle Cross, as the witch Malabelle, is presented as a misunderstood figure as much as an evil one; her considerable stage presence and obvious glee, moreover, mean that despite much noisy booing and hissing she never really comes across as scary even to the youngest audience members.

There is a pleasing amount of community singing here, aided greatly by Liz Swinburne and Keith Wilson’s brilliant audio-visual display. Having the scenery done by projector means that the lyrics of most of the songs are visible, plus we can enjoy the onscreen acting of the ‘living portraits’ Aimee and Remy, played to great effect by Eleanor Watson and Mark Kirkbride. The other items of ‘living furniture’ are well served by performances from Gillian McEvoy, Betty Meston and particularly Helen Wilson, who demonstrates that there is no such thing as a small role by magnificent delivery and timing on more than one occasion.

Colin Mitchell’s unfussy direction, aided by Irene Mitchell’s accomplished lighting and Morag Stevenson’s unflagging musical direction, mean that the whole thing proceeds smoothly. This is helped by clean, effective staging, top-notch costumes and some carefully judged special effects (although perhaps the dry ice is used a little overenthusiastically on one occasion).

What really elevates this show from being good to something to cherish is that little extra which marks it out as a real team effort. Ma’s acknowledgement of birthdays in the audience seems to come from the heart rather than being a cynical add-on, while the appearance of the church’s minister at the end of the show, ready to perform any necessary weddings, roots the whole thing firmly in its local community.

In a pleasingly traditional move, Ma throws chocolate into the audience; if that was not enough, Beauty and Capucine distribute more at the interval as the raffle is drawn. While this is happening, we are served our tea and coffee at our seats by Christine Norrie’s well-drilled and seemingly enormous Front of House team. All of this makes the whole thing seem like a real local community performance; one, furthermore, which is welcoming to outsiders.

None of this would make a bad panto into a good one, however; but this care, attention to detail and good humour is reflected by what takes place on the stage. There will be plenty more pantomimes this year, but there will not be many which match the integrity, energy and sheer good fun on display here.

Running time 2 hrs 5 mins including interval
Run ends Saturday 23 November 2013
Evenings 7.30 pm
Saughtonhall United Reformed Church Hall, 85/87 Saughtonhall Drive EH12 5TR
Details at www.saughtonhall.com

ENDS

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