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Review: Beauty & The Beast at The Hexagon

Beauty or Beastly? You decide when you see CBeebies star Justin Fletcher and Dame Paul Morse in ballet tights, wrestling a balloon. Grrrrrrr.

Justin Fletcher and Dame Paul Morse Beauty and the Beast The Hexagon Reading
Dame Paul Morse and Justin Fletcher as Nanny and Billy Pastry

Twas the opening night of Reading’s panto and the theatre was packed with sugar crazed kids ready to let rip. They were fully primed for all the ‘he’s behind yous’ and ‘oh no he didn’ts’ that are the theatrical equivalent of a Christmas cheese board. Despite suffering from theatrical indigestion, you just keep going back for more. To be honest, it was good to be back and you could feel the sense of relief and sheer joy from the cast that they had made it to opening night of Beauty & The Beast.

It’s not your typical panto tale of rags to riches or finding Prince Charming. Oh no it isn’t (OK, I’ll stop). Instead we have a handsome prince who upsets the local woo woo lady, gets slapped with a beastly curse and when a villager knocks on the prince’s door, he gets all aggy and convinces him to hand over his beautiful daughter. Where were the police? Social services? Perhaps they were also predisposed at illegal Christmas gatherings playing musical chairs and handing out Secret Santa gifts.

This Covid-delayed panto stars CBeebies demigod Justin Fletcher, aka Mr Tumble, and multi-award-winning panto dame Paul Morse. I’m not sure how many years these two have been panto-ing together, but it’s a lot. They’ve got the chemistry of Burton and Taylor and are the reason audiences book up year after year. Beauty and Beasty may have their names in lights, but it’s Justin and Paul who have the audience eating out of their hands.

Justin Fletcher Dame Paul Morse Beauty and The Beast Reading

It’s worth remembering that this is not a Disney panto. So no Lumière or Cogsworth, but Imagine Theatre’s production comes fully-loaded with glitz, cheesy gags, slapstick fun and toe-tapping tunes. In fact, one of my favourite scenes makes a comeback for 2021. Once again Justin and Paul slip into their 100 deniers for the hilarious balloon ballet. Only one word is spoken, followed by some extraordinary moves. It’s the kind of choreographed slapstick that really tickles and confirmation, if it were needed, that Justin and Paul (or JuPaul, as I like to call them) are a double act made in panto heaven.

You’ll also get a messy custard pie scene, Nanny’s wig falling off – which I always think is a mistake is just beautifully executed – and the Ghostbusters skit too. At risk of sounding like a stalker, let’s talk about the rest of the cast.

The Beast (Karl Loxley) and Beauty (Sarah Giorgina) both have powerful voices. In fact Karl’s beastly roar, accompanied with flashing lights and thunderous soundtrack was so convincing several very small children in front of me either burst into tears or buried their heads in their mum/ dad’s armpit. Sarah’s Beauty was just sweet enough not to give you toothache, so all in all, a big tick.

Bear botemme Beauty and The BEast The HeXAGON REAding
Ryan Alexander Full as Bear Botemme

I loved newcomer Ryan Alexander Full as the dastardly Bear Botemme. A fresh take on the evil Gaston, and the butt of many of the jokes. I don’t know who he was channelling, but I was getting all the Denholm Reynholm vibes from The IT Crowd. Google him. Leather-clad, over confident and kinda foxy if it wasn’t for the tights and ponytail.

The one thing missing is the junior ensemble. It’s a Covid concession, but the show must go on. That said, the grown up support crew put in a shift as angry villagers, singing, dancing and selling drinks in the interval. OK so not the last one, but you get my drift.

All in all, this is a roarsome night out. Some of the gags are as a familiar as a pair of old slippers but my youngest was mesmerised and in hysterics. It’s a Christmas cracker with the kind of bang we all need after last year’s panto no-show. Tickets are on sale until 3 Jan 2022. Well worth booking.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Families of all ages – but CBeebies-loving littlies will be living their best lives. Lovers of silly comedy and cheesy one liners.

Not for: Anyone easily scared/ sensitive to sound. Some of the Beast’s scenes are loud and dark.

Beauty & The Beast, The Hexagon, Queens Walk, Reading RG1 7UA. Tel 0118 960 6060.

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