An Oxford Playhouse Pantomime
A review by Graham Shave 14 January 2014
Get set for a magical, musical adventure this Christmas with Beauty and the Beast. It is a classic pantomime, for all the family. This smash hit is written and directed by Peter Duncan, who has added a loads of fun, magic and new ideas along the way.
The session musicians perform a high-powered soundtrack, some of the songs recall the best of the West End and Broadway and choreography by Richard Jones is expertly done.
The familiar Leon Craig, but the people’s loudly and outrageously play Dame Jolena Jolly Chops favourite, and the most energetic, is the acrobatic dog Tumble Toes skilfully played by Kate McWilliam.
Beauty is capably played by Sammy Andrews also has an excellent singing voice. Fairies sponge features the unforgettable Helena Raeburn, while both the Beast and the Beauty’s father, a brilliantly portrayed by the unsurpassable Alan Vicary.
Michael Pickering faultlessly performs as Prince George and there is excellent backup from the rest of the cast.
The storyline, whereby beauty sacrifices herself in order to save her father, recalls the Korean folktale, wherein a daughter gives her own eyes to save the site of her blind father. Moreover, Beauty’s eventual love song to the beast, professing eternal love brings tears to the eyes.
All good panto uses themes, which appeal to man’s original nature as going to destroy his evil. In beauty, there is the theme of dissolving sin and evil as the curse is vanquished by true love, enabling the repulsive beast to be turned back to the handsome Prince, and this transformation echoes another theme, that of restoring manned original God-given nature.
The most moving moments are when the beast cries out to be loved. His tragic words “all I need is love” recall the devils ancient accusation to God that (as an Archangel). He has never been properly loved, while conversely, the sorrow of the beast also reflects the bottomless grief in the heart of God.
Thus, the use of multiple themes gives Duncan is rendering a deep spiritual and uplifting quality, while this version is also packed with fun, laughter and hijinks and invites intense audience participation as the kids share in the fun by calling out and waving their flashing windmills and crystal ones.
The Beast’s scenes are in act two, especially the Bollywood and Hollywood extravaganzas, together with the electric, which is scene, and beauty’s emotional love song, which surprisingly, turns the beast into the handsome Prince, who she marries.
The scenery used is superlative in design; there are many dazzling seeing transitions, some excellent costumes, and very smooth production, all of which tell of a tremendous investment of heart and talent. All told, a very fine performance, especially by the nimble tumble toes and by the heart-invoking beast.
Beware of the light flashes, and the smutty jokes are not needed, but overall first class family entertainment. Not to be missed.
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