Beauty and the Beast

Andrew Pollard
Salisbury Playhouse
Salisbury Playhouse
to

It’s a well-known story, isn’t it? The beautiful girl who, after being captured by a repulsively ugly man, finds her fear and distaste when in his presence gradually dissipate as she discovers his other, rather more likeable qualities, qualities which might even lead to love. We can understand that. After all, is there anyone in the audience who, this very morning, hasn’t looked in the mirror and been prompted to say anything more complimentary to themselves than, at the most, "okay. You’ll do"?

So many films, plays and books on the theme. Even a Philip Glass opera. So where did it start? Well, according to the programme La Belle et le Bete was first written in 1740. This version is set mainly in 1950s Paris. So, of course, the traditional audience responses to traditional pantomime questions will be "Fantastique" or "Magnifique" and we have the Eiffel Tower and other familiar Parisian landmarks to remind us (it’s quite tempting to imagine little kids all over Salisbury, who are here tonight, waking on Christmas morning and opening their presents to "Oh, c’est fantastique!")

Love is, of course, the main theme of the action. Apart from the Beauty and Beast of the title, Amorette (how appropriate) and Prince Friedrich (when he’s not being beastly) played by Joseph Black and Liberty Buckland, we have Betty Bonbon, the dame (Richard Ede), whose confectionery-decorated costumes and headdresses make her a fitting likely partner for Monsieur Marzipan the sweetshop owner (Ralph Bogard). Then there’s Amorette’s recklessly extravagant and ideally named sister Souffle (Nerine Skinner). Her potential partner is the delightful post-boy/general organiser Cupid (Alex Wadham) who hold a secret which can, if revealed, transform all their lives. But will he choose love instead?

So many wonderful moments in this pantomime—Dame Betty turning up as a pot of chrysanthemums and having to totter across the stage as her legs are confined to the narrow lower part of the pot, Marzipan’s bandaged leg which has its own separate role in the action scenes, the baking scene where Betty and Marzipan have their faces repeatedly dipped in wet dough and the dancing skeletons and the dropping of characters through the trapdoor in clouds of smoke.

And, in contrast, when there’s a pause in the laughter (rarely) moments such as when the transformed beast is carrying Amorette to his castle, we get the warm feeling that things are going to go well.

There has to be a villain of course. And Spite (Helen Colby) is as unpleasant as they come. Will she remain as sinister or will she too come under the magic?

Mention too must be made of the energetic swings (Henry Lawes and Ashley Runeckles) who lead the dancing and those two accomplished groups of youngster who form the Bluebells and the Red Roses. Think they may have some new recruits from the younger members of the audience.

Lighting, costumes, scenery—how do they it? I think the secret may lie in them having been working on the production since this time last year.

It’s been an inspired collaboration, hasn’t it, between writer Andrew Pollard, director Ryan McBride and designer James Button? Every year, it seems, the pantomimes that emerge from their joint cooperation at the Playhouse get better and better, more joyous and life-enhancing. Only problem is they’ve already had to extend this year’s run of Beauty and the Beast by a whole week to accommodate all the people who must have their Playhouse pantomime fix. So, with their reputation having already reached such dizzying heights, what are they going to do for us next year?

Whatever it is, hope they don’t just go for an extra week, though. Make it a fortnight at the very least.

Oui. C’est eclatantes!

Anne Hill