Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Beauty and The Beast”, which is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru until Saturday 25 January 2014
17 years on, the Clwyd rock and roll pantomimes are still the jolliest of Christmas shows. Like classic Disney cartoons, each of Peter Rowe’s seasonal story reappears every seven years or so and each incarnation is better than the last. So I think I’m seeing “Beauty and The Beast” for the third time – but it’s as fresh and funny as ever with an updated script, brand new design and a few new faces amongst the familiar friends on stage.
Interestingly, there seems more substance to this story than most with its themes of truth, loyalty, keeping one’s word and (almost ridiculous) piety. This is largely down to Ellie Rose Boswell who imbues her Beauty with a great deal more pizzazz and spunk than your regular passive panto princess. She’s a great ‘face’ actor…her elastic expressions conveying everything about her initial revulsion and growing affection for the Beast… and her squirming embarrassment at having to fend off the affections of the hopelessly Desperate Dan as kindly as possible. There are a few Cinderellas I can think of who could take a master class from her on how to deal with Buttons without the audience thinking her callous.
Miss Boswell is a versatile dancer too….all angular, clunky and clenched-fisted when cavorting with henchmen – and delicately balletic when dueting with the prince.
Another new (-ish) face to shine is Esther Biddle who doubles as witch and bitch. She’s blessed with the loud and proud stage presence of an Ethel Merman, with a cheeky smile at her most villainous moments. I just hope her voice lasts out.
Amongst the boys, Adam Barlow is great fun, especially when ad-libbing (but don’t encourage him) and Toby Lord’s pony-tailed Prince looks a little like Imran Khan – charming enough to insult every woman in the audience and get away with it – whilst his Beast shows touching contrition for his arrogant past.
But, actually, the audience really comes to see Phylip Harries’s Dame – and, as she arrives on her mobility-scooter comedy-car, she is as wonderful as ever. We must be the most picked upon panto audience in Christendom. If you don’t want to get soaked, sit at the back. And if you don’t want to be sent up, sit in Rhyl.
Bronwen Bigbreaths (a broadcaster’s nightmare) has uncontrollable boobs and an addiction to ad-libbing. She does transparent in-jokes that had me doubled up and ran through old gags with a rapier. Even when she’s off stage she still dominates the comedy. “Is Bronwen generally hospitable? No, she’s more Accident and Emergency.”
All this highly-tuned tom foolery is played out against Judith Croft’s Ballet Russe-inspired design of shiny wax figures in a gaudy cardboard cut-out doll’s house – and to an impeccable sound track of classic hits that’s particularly heavy on ‘Metal’ this year.
The Clwyd panto has been unbeatable for nearly two decades now and it’s so good the production team will be on their own mobility scooters long before the tradition fades.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.
Photo : Phil Cutts