Beauty & the Beast: The Panto

December 9, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆   Charming

The Wee Hub, Ocean Terminal: Thurs 8 – Sat 10 Dec 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Beauty & the Beast: The Panto, the Christmas offering from Forth Children’s Theatre, has the appeal of a traditional pantomime. Like many pantos, it lacks a little in subtlety and smoothness, but makes up for it in determination and pizzazz.

Writer and director Lewis C. Baird marshals a young and largely inexperienced cast with considerable skill. Baird’s script draws on the various versions of the don’t-judge-by-appearances fairy tale, creating a well-paced production.

Joseph Coane, Luke Davidson and Charlotte Dickson in FCT’s Beauty and the Beast.

There may be bumps along the way, but this is certainly not the first pantomime that seems already to be at the happy-ever-after stage at the interval, thus requiring considerable backtracking in the second half.

The extensive prologue showing how the Prince became the Beast, together with constant reminders of what he has to do in order to change back, do remove most of the jeopardy from the story, however.

expected ingredients

Judicious use is made of the expected ingredients, with a sprinkling of local references and up-to-date topical barbs mixed in with familiar jokes, well-worn set pieces and audience participation, all of of which goes to make up a pleasing whole.

Chloe Law and Cast in FCT’s Beauty and the Beast.

One of the unavoidable effects for young people’s theatre of the Covid-induced hiatus is a lack of continuity, and fewer opportunities for the more experienced to work with younger actors. Inevitably, it has led to casts with a larger percentage of inexperienced performers than would be ideal.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there is slightly less in the way of stage knowledge on display here than would have been the case in previous years. As a result, some actors are overly diffident, while others are a little too expansive and strain hard for laughs.

real talent on show,

There is some real talent on show, however. Corin Wake comes close to stealing the show as the evil Baron Tam, with his entrance singing Beggin’ in an exaggeratedly plummy voice, decidedly impressive. This number – a 60s hit that has since been revived more than once, not least on TikTok – encapsulates how carefully the songs have been chosen for the widest appeal, helped by Erin Munro’s vocal arrangements.

Corin Wake and Luke Davidson in in FCT’s Beauty and the Beast.

Another clever musical choice is the medley of Shut Up and Dance with Raise Your Glass, as done in the musical of Moulin Rouge, which combines one of Belle and the Beast’s soppier moments with another genuinely funny performance from Wake.

Charlotte Dickson’s Belle is agreeable but retains a streak of assertiveness, as well as impressing vocally; Joe Tulloch is particularly strong at nailing the ‘stroppy teenager’ element of the Beast’s character.

If the script does have a fault, it’s the cramming in of so many just recognisable panto characters. There seems to be little real reason for Belle’s father being Muddles the Clown, her stepmother the Dame and her stepbrother Joey the ‘silly sidekick’, but it does give scope for considerable comedy.

glee and commitment

Joseph Coane (Muddles) and Nathan Fisher (Joey) attack their roles with real glee and commitment. Luke Davidson’s Dame Maggie is a performance of real promise, with his Shania Twain number a particular highlight.

Chloe Law’s Fairy McTavish has a rapport with the audience, while Mhairi Finlay and Hannah Wilson give the Beast’s servants a dignified humanity.

The cast of FCT’s Beauty and the Beast.

Law and Wilson are particularly impressive dancers, which enhances another impressive feature of the production; Taylor Doig’s excellent choreography makes good use of the well-drilled ensemble in what is a limited space on stage.

The drawbacks of the venue have to be mentioned. It really is a corner of the old Debenhams in Ocean Terminal; a small area is shut off from the rest of the building about as well as could be expected. But, as well as being extremely cold, it is less than ideal. It is only during the extended finale that the creative use of performing space that is something of a FCT trademark can come into being.

The odd sound and lighting cue is missed, but the performers keep the impetus going, which is hardly surprising when there is such a supportive ensemble feel to the production. The end result is welcoming, well constructed and charming.

Running time: Two hours including one interval
The Wee Hub, Former Debenhams Store, Ocean Terminal, 7 Ocean Drive, EH66JJ
Thursday 8 – Saturday 10 December 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Joe Tulloch and Cast in FCT’s Beauty and the Beast.

ENDS

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