2019 Pantomime: Beauty & The Beast

Beauty and the Beast has been with us as a folk tale for a long time; from its first publication in 1740 to its most recent Disney movie it has been seen in many shapes and sizes, and now, in the delightful venue that is Otterbourne Village Hall, it surfaces in panto form, in a most entertaining version by award-winning author Alan Frayn.

Most of the audience will know the story already – that of Prince Danton being turned into The Beast by the immortal sorceress Belladonna for refusing to marry her. Her curse means that he will only be restored to human form if someone will marry him before the last rose of summer finally withers and dies.

The company put their all into this show, which is evident from the outset, and all the stock panto characters are on show (“oh yes they are!”). Leading from the front is the obligatory outrageous dame Madame Fifi, and Kevin Warne’s energetic performance garnered regular applause throughout the show for his inexhaustible good humour and control of the audience, and showing great skill with his ad-libs and comic timing.

As principal girl Belle, Sarah Hobbs had the difficult straight role, but she handled it with confidence and authority, and her singing voice was pitched just right for her songs ‘Belle’ and ‘Something There’, the latter with The Beast.

There’s always an evil character for the audience to boo, and Hannah Ashton, as the witch Belladonna, made the most of her part as the glamorous baddie – and she had one of the best costumes, too!

And then there was The Beast. Played initially (in human form) by Jess Hancock, he then transformed into the hairy monster we all know. Steve Rickman inhabited the role with strength, and had the best of the evening’s numbers with ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’. His was a crucial pivotal role grasped with both hands.

There were some appealing performances further down the cast list too, from Xanthe Gibbs’ and Issy Goodridge’s dreadful sisters Whitney and Britney, and Holly and Nicky Williams’ TOWIE Beauty Parlour owners Marcel and Monique, to Phillip Tutt Leppard’s eccentric Alphonse (Belle’s father) and Jack Hobbs’ daft Jacques with mile-wide grin and boisterous good humour.

And finally, one had to fall in love with Fairy Flora (Lilly Goodridge) and Flower Fairy Lottie Crosskey, both dressed immaculately in Cicely Mary Barker-style, and both arriving with perfect timing throughout to move the action forward with infectious cuteness.

Mention must be made of the terrific range of costumes (take a bow Wardrobe Mistress Sam Oldham), Kerry-Anne Purnell’s choreography and Musical Director Richard Daniels’ sterling work on keyboards. It’s also a joy to be able to compliment such an efficient and welcoming Front-of-House team.

Director Steve Rickman has clearly created a show that cast and audience alike thoroughly enjoy participating in and watching, and one can be assured that this, the 39th of their pantos, will lead confidently to next year’s 40th.