Beauty And The Beast

Paul Ferguson
Blue Genie Entertainment
Whitley Bay Playhouse

Blue Genie Entertainment once again produces the pantomime at Whitley Bay Playhouse, although Beauty and the Beast is not instantly recognised as a panto and this is where the problems start.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the annual outings to see Cinderella, Aladdin and the rest, when done well. But trying to adjust this classic tale in to a traditional pantomime just does not work, in this production anyway.

Writer and director Paul Ferguson gives the cast little to work with; several scenes end with the audience silent and often jokes fall flat. Maybe the second ever performance is too early for a press night and things will improve and tighten up.

But the likes of adding children dancers dressed as Minions, from Despicable Me, performing tricks to cheer up the Beast (Alan Hunter) in a very long, unfunny and slow scene is just bizarre and does not work. Although the children do admittedly give an impressive performance, the whole concept just does not fit.

Whitley Bay regular Steve Walls manages to get the audience on side, but it takes until the traditional ghost scene in act 2 to get things really going. He comes in to his own with the community sing song just before the finale, with the full audience willingly joining in and jumping from their seats.

The question is, why has it taken this long to get the audience involved and put it all on Walls's shoulders? He knows what local audiences want and delivers, but it should not be down to him alone.

Paul Harris as Dame Ducky comes off worse, with his first scene falling flat, then being left with very little to do other than come on in most scenes to make a supposed announcement before other cast members order him off (think “not now Arthur” from Morecambe and Wise to get the idea). But adding a Dame into this story, just so there is a Dame as its pantomime, is not required. Harris is left with nowhere to go and little material.

Jeremy Edwards (TV’s Holby and Hollyoaks) has the looks to make a great Gaston but does not have the stature to make the OTT jokes work and uses a voice that sounds like Prince Charles at times. But thankfully he is willing to send himself up.

However, on the plus side, Rebecca Shorrocks shines as both Le Shue and the Candlestick, grabbing both roles and making the best of them. Disney names are avoided although we do have a couple of Disney songs, from their classic version, in the production.

Throughout the show there are many song and dance routines, but the sound levels are such that they drown out the singing. Hopefully this can be adjusted in the run.

A few miles away at the Customs House, South Shields, the annual panto has a dedicated fan base and it is known as “the little panto with the big heart”. Recognising their limitations, they build on their strengths and do not compete with the likes of Newcastle or Sunderland and thereby deliver a quality, fun, family friendly panto every year. It is something the Playhouse needs to try to emulate.

Reviewer: John Dixon

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