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Belle of the panto ball

Beauty & The Beast at the Corn Exchange Newbury is a celeb-free zone and all the better for it.

Barry Manilow's Copacabana in pink neon lights – panto dance routine at Corn Exchange Newbury

A hot-off-the-panto press verdict on Beauty & The Beast at the Corn Exchange Newbury. To put it succinctly – because I’m knackered! – I think you’ll love it. There, shall I go for a nana nap? What do you mean no?!

Most pantos cover all the predicable bases of including a couple of strong singers, a couple of strong actors (oh, a bridge too far?) a cross-dresser, a faded celeb, a token local performer and core of under-drilled, over-extended backing dancers. The Corn Exchange has never succumbed to the faded lustre of an I’m A Celebrity reject or retired 80s game show host. What do you get instead? A mix of experienced and youthful jobbing actors who are well up for the panto patter. They sing, they dance, and work their glittery socks off.

Village idiot Cuthbert wear Orange top and pants with a purple bow in Beautu and the Beast panto at the Corn Exchange Newbury

I’m a big fan of Newbury’s panto. Last year’s Cinderella was my least favourite, but I had high hopes for Beauty & The Beast. Mariah Carey always kicks off proceedings, belting out All I Want For Christmas  – the perfect Crimbo mood setter and you know it gives you know you’ve got just shy of 4 minutes to leg it from the bar to park your bum. Comfier than a pair of Uggs, the show is littered with corny Dad jokes that my 12-year-old loved, familiar pop songs, a sprinkling of Charlie Chaplin-esque slapstick and a Dame wearing foxiest shoe boots.

One thing to applaud in this panto is that both halves were funny. Often you get a brilliant opening act and then a sluggish finale or vice versa, but this one rollicked along all the way through, and my kids were joyful,  giggly and good-natured (can we bottle that moment, pleeeease).

Haggard old woman played by a man tricks the beautiful blonde Belle in Beauty and the beast Newbury

Ultimately it was brilliant fun. The headlines? Pheobe Lewis’ Belle is so sweet she gave me toothache (although that could’ve been the big bag of Minstrels I inhaled). But that’s what Disney Princesses are supposed to be and she pushes out her lines effortlessly and has a very pleasant singing voice. Blair Gibson, as Prince Rupert/ Beast, has the whole butter-wouldn’t-melt good looks going on, but was more impressive as the Beast. The village idiot Cuthbert, played by Danny Stokes, had a hint of MIC’s Jamie Laing – ‘Yar, cool’.

There’s nothing like a dame and PK Taylor’s  Enchantress was a refreshing change from the usual boob readjusting, pout fest. If  Cruella DeVil and Lily Savage had a baby, The Enchantress would be it. She sings (not the best voice, but OK), she dances and has more costume changes than Lady Gaga at The Grammy’s. Her Copacabana dance was a highlight. The frills, the neon. It was camper than Christmas and I loved it.

Slapstick fun with Pickle and Lilly in Beauty and the Beast Corn Exchange Newbury

Joshua Coley and Amy Christina Murray as comedy duo Pickle and Lilly had some magic moments – the Michael Jackson Thriller dance routine was fan-freaking-tastic. The other highlight was an exceptionally well-acted piece of visual comedy involving wallpaper. Very very funny.

There are some wonderful and unexpected surprises that I won’t spoil for you. but needless to say, Director Phil Willmott and his team have excelled themselves.  All in all, a great success. Fun for all the fam – and at two and a half hours from beginning to end, not overlong for smaller kids. A big Muddy panto pleaser.

Beauty & The Beast is on until Sun 7 Jan, Corn Exchange, Market Place, Newbury Berkshire RG14 5BD

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