Beauty’s a French fancy
South Hill Park's' Beauty & the Beast has a kick-ass Belle and a horse that's the spit of Ryan Gosling. Seriously.
It’s a first for me – a Panto breakfast, but I whizzed to South Hill Park in Bracknell to catch Beauty and The Beast at the very kiddy friendly time of 10.15am. Yes there was coffee and I may have succumbed to a cinnamon bun.
This is the second Beauty and the Beast panto I have seen this season, and they couldn’t be more different. South Hill Park’s version is a panto purists dream – singing, dancing, classic panto patter and lots of audience participation.
Based on the 18th French fairytale La Belle et La Bête, for non Disney fans the story goes like this – a young prince (Matthew Houston), imprisoned in the form of a beast, can be freed only by true love. What may be his only opportunity arrives when he meets Belle (Faye Ellen), the only human girl to ever visit the castle since it was enchanted. She discovers its filthy, hairy owner, once she stopped shaking with fear, they dance, but will they fall in love? Spoiler alert, they do.
Now to camp this Beauty up and make it panto-tastic we need to throw in a camp as Christmas dame – Good fairy Gabby played by local star Brad Clapson, her evil sister the Enchantress, Gobby (Heather Wilson), a tap dancing horse, a man that used to be a horse, Zut Alore (Tom Pepper) and Nobere – a smarmy Mr Luvva Luvva man – a bad lad keen to lead pretty girls astray.
Brad Clapson keeps everything rollicking along as the Good Fairy, great ad-libs and uses the men in the audience for comic target practice. School teacher Mr Green featured heavily in the show – and looked pretty dishy from where I was sitting. Who knew teachers were so hot these days?
I have had the pleasure of seeing Brad in several shows here and he NEVER disappoints. Funny, larger than life, a great singing voice and utterly fabulous, darrrrling (in the words of Craig Revel Horwood).
Don’t think for a second this is all about Brad (sorry, not this time, hon). The cast is strong. Faye Ellen as Beauty, is a feisty 21st Century Belle – no artificial sweetener required. She’s a confident, kick-ass kinda gal. And, boy, can she sing and dance. Tom Parker who played Zut Alore – the man horse definitely has a touch of the Ryan Goslings about him. Easy on the eye and held his French accent even when the things were going a bit off script and they got the giggles.
But Nobere, the hip thrusting, hair flicking, lothario, had me at hello. We all love a bad boy and plays his role with a hint on Tom Jones and the greasy charm of IT Crowd boss Douglas Reynholm.
Special mention to the junior cast. The kids always amaze me. They put in 110%, rarely put a foot wrong and the senior cast take them under their wing. Victoria Spearling’s clever set design was breathtaking. The castle rotated to change scenes, and bits pulled out on hinges with trees on wheels for quick and smooth transitions. It looked like a Scandinavian village scene in a giant snow globe. Seriously impressive.
It’s a fun panto, with lots of local charm. If I’m nit picking, the first half is slower than the second, but after the interval… Boom! It comes back fighting with the Rock Chic Song. The Best Panto Song Ever is a staple audience sing along, but probably could’ve done with the words on stage. As I say, I’m being picky. It’s fun, Christmassy. Go and see it.
Beauty and the Beast is on at South Hill Park Bracknell until Wed 3 Jan