Beauty and the Beast

Dec 9 2017 | By More

★★★★☆   Santa… claws?

Brunton Theatre:  Tuesday 28 Nov – Sat 6 Jan
Review by Martin Gray

A splendid script and pitch perfect performances make a tale as old as time feel as fresh as a daisy at Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre.

All the best pantomimes have an exotic setting. There’s Aladdin in old China, Peter Pan in Neverland and Beauty and the Beast in… Beauty and the Beast in Musselburgh?

Eilidh Weir and James Boal. Pic Brunton Theatre

Yes, the Brunton’s show for the 2017 Christmas season is set in a pretty recognisable version of the Honest Toun, complete with Ye Old iPhone, Gregges and Guineastretcher. Poor old Prince Hamish of Musselburgh – a rather vain type – is a little too honest and offends local witch Mordena when she offers herself in marriage. “You must be in yer forties!”

Cue curse – two in fact, as Hamish’s footman Fraser becomes an old man even as the Prince gains claws, hooves and a very hairy heid (he’s still got lovely legs, mind). Will he ever find a girl to love him as he is, her kiss undoing the curse so he can run the Mucky Musselburgh Mud Marathon he was training for before he was so tragically interrupted?

This is a proudly local production, in which the accents are as thick as a Scotch pie filling. The Musselburgh setting instantly connects with the kids, while the constant flow of daft gags goes down a treat. Chief purveyor of same is Auntie Agnes, one of the more slimline Dames around but easily one of the best.

Keith McLeish and Raymond Short. Pic Brunton Theatre

Keith McLeish relishes his role as surrogate mother to Wallyford beauty Katie, leading the cast with a splendidly manic energy. He’s at his best interacting with the audience, whether it’s leading the traditional end-of-show singalong or tickling bashful dads with a massive implement…

James Boal is a very decent Beast, scary enough to give the little ones ‘paws’ but never awful enough to truly terrify. Having met him pre-curse – unusual in adaptations of the fairytale – the audience knows what’s at stake and ache for him to earn that True Love’s Kiss.

And if there’s never any doubt he’s going to get a big old smacker from Katie, watching their romantic journey is loads of fun thanks in part to the warmth of Eilidh Weir’s performance as marathon-mad Katie. She’s got a nice singing voice too, making the pop songs that pepper this production into cute treats.

Mat Urey, Keith McLeish and Martin Murphy. Pic Brunton Theatre

Raymond Short, as Fraser, looks like Frank Skinner but the broad accent dispels any notion that the English comic has snuck onto the stage. Fraser’s a lovely creation, alternately pricking Hamish’s self-pity and avoiding the attentions of amorous Agnes. Martin Murphy, as Katie’s best pal and Agnes’s son Angus, looks like Gerald Kelly and acts like Dennis the Menace. He’s a splendid Daft Lad, a great foil to a great Dame.

I’ve never met an even vaguely sinister Murdo, but Mat Urey’s henchman to Mordena would give me pause, with his air of quiet menace. Happily, he’s also a bit rubbish as enactors of evil go, so that’s all right.

As for Mordena, whoa! Julie Coombe is a villainess par excellence, striding onto the stage looking magnificent in one of Maleficent’s cast-offs, fair begging for boos and relishing every one. This wicked woman’s not bothered that ‘stinky children’ don’t like her, she’s too busy trying to ensure all curses remain firmly in place. Coombe, back after her delightful turn in last year’s Aladdin, is well wicked as the mistress of jogging monkeys (we’re told the budget won’t stretch to flying ones).

Julie Coombe. Pic Brunton Theatre.

That’s seven fine individual performances which come together as a very satisfying whole, the ensemble wringing every laugh out of the sparkling script by director Mark Cox and music arranger David Goodall. Handling the music live is musical director Tommie Travers, and the result is generally very good, the main exception being Murdo and Mordena’s duet – they had head mics, their voices were as strong as anyone’s, but the sound drowned them out. I don’t know if that’s arrangement or instruments, but a tweak would work wonders.

Where would a panto be without local kiddies playing villagers and villains? Beauty and the Beast has four troupes of talented children showing those grown-ups how it’s done, translating Rhian Monro’s choreography into pure charm.

Everyone involved deserves, if not one of Auntie Agnes’s hidden Curly Wurlies, at least a big pat on the back for a thoroughly enjoyable show, one that’s far more Beauty than Beast.

Running time: one hour and forty minutes, including interval
Brunton Theatre, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA.
Tuesday 28 November 2017 – Saturday 6 January 2018.
Mon 11 –  Wed 13: 10am & 1.45pm
Thurs 14/Fri 15: 10am & 7pm
Sat 16: 2pm & 7pm.
Tue 19 – Fri 22: 10am & 7pm
Sat 23: 2pm & 7pm
Sun 24: 1pm & 5pm
Wed 27/Thurs 28: 2pm & 7pm
Friday 29, Sun 31: 1pm & 5pm
Sat 30 1pm & 7pm
Wed 3 Jan 2018: 2pm & 7pm
Thurs 4/Fri 5: 1pm & 5pm
Sat 6: 1pm & 7pm.

Tickets and details:

James Boal and Eilidh Weir. Pic Brunton Theatre


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