Beauty and the Beast
Ben Crocker, music by Sarah Travis
The Theatre, Chipping Norton
The Theatre at Chipping Norton is an absolute treasure, a true gem and has a warm welcoming atmosphere. It began life as a Salvation Army Citadel and the adjacent bar used to be a gin palace and is now decorated with theatrical frescos.
The foyer was buzzing with youngsters eagerly awaiting the start of this year's pantomime Beauty and the Beast and what an absolute joy it was - a good wholesome traditional show that was simply great fun for all the family.
This production skilfully directed by John Terry refreshingly doesn't rely on celebrities from television or over-amplified sound but instead has honest acting with bags of audience participation and all the old fashioned ingredients of panto including ghosts, fireflies that filled and snow that covered the auditorium, making this production a highlight of the festive season.
Wittily written by Ben Crocker, the French story of Beauty and the Beast is set in 'Les Cotswolds Francais' with the wonderful Matt Pinches as the French poodle, Chippie, who acts as the narrator and won the hearts of all the audience.
The opening number 'I'm Selling Sunshine' really does sum up this show with a delightful score from composer Sarah Travis.
Life in the hamlet is tough; "even the rich are poor" and the poor are down to their very last carrot but Billy Riddoch as the consummate Dame is desperate to keep the family together.
The evil witch Malabelle (Basienka Blake) is spurned by the Prince and refuses to marry him and so she seeks her revenge and turns him into the beast. I wish she had been a little nastier! But when the audience boos she counters them by saying, "I love my booze" - certainly one for the adults.
Rowan Talbot plays the Beast powerfully and when the lovely Rose, charmingly played by Lottie Gilmore, is traded for a chest of treasure, the play enters a darker period with her experiencing life in the beast's castle with talking clocks, gigantic beds, feasts and rooms with magic mirrors.
The female blacksmith (strongly played by Stacey Cadman) eventually manages to get her man Jacques, the shy Sam Pay, and all ends happily with the Prince marrying his Beauty and even the poodle finding a partner.
Ably supported by an enthusiastic ensemble of youngsters this is one show that should be on your calendar. Tickets are selling fast. Highly recommended.
Runs until 8th January
Reviewer: Robin Strapp