In some waysBeauty and the Beast is not an easy subject to fit into pantomime traditions: at its centre is a story full of pathos and humanity which doesn't translate readily into panto irreverence. Though Theatre Royal Wakefield's version is huge fun and many typical pantomime features are there in rude health (the young audience more than ready to participate), the balance between narrative and knockabout is skewed more in favour of story-telling than is usual. And, most importantly, the relationship between Beauty and the Beast comes over with due seriousness.
Alongside the games and puzzles the lavish programme emphasises the 18th century French origins of Belle et La Bete and Daniel O'Brien's clever script and the music directed by Jim Lunt have a pleasingly Gallic flavour. La Vie en Rose is a regular motif in the music (given the importance of a rose in the story, a bad musical pun to go with the verbal ones), Les Miserables is the source of a big production number and there is a touch of the Cancan and Serge Gainsbourg for the grown-ups. Best of all is a delightfully daft Frenchified Twelve Days of Christmas.
The nature of the story tends to sideline the villain and Vanessa Kosejkova has to work rather too hard to convince us of the menace of Sybil who has put a wicked spell on the local Prince (Leon Kay). A neat touch is that, as a Prince, he is arrogant and self-centred – thank Goodness his time as a really rather nice Beast improves him no end!
I'm not sure it's for the best to begin with Sybil's rather generic evil, but, once we get onto the village green, the show takes off. Lauren Ingram radiates sweetness and youthful joie de vivre as Beauty; David Moss is very silly as Pascal, son of the dame and haplessly in love with Beauty; the young chorus under choreographer Louise Dennison is as spry and well-drilled as you could wish; and Mark Walters' cut-out sets are charmingly done, though he misses a trick in labelling inn and water-trough in English!
Rhiannon Ellis directs with zest, flair and no little imagination and there is no weak link in the cast of seven. Chris Hannon reveals why he is Wakefield's favourite Dame, his Dominique Derriere full of knowing complicity and wry asides, ably negotiating the elaborate structures Walters calls costumes. Carl Sanderson's likably muddled Inn Keeper (Beauty's dad) fields a fine resonant voice, Helen Colby's animated and very funny Baguette (the Beast's servant) is another who maintains the high vocal standards and in Act 2 Ingram's excellent Principal Girl adds a feisty morality to her initial pertness.
Beauty and the Beast continues at the Theatre Royal Wakefield until 4 January 2015.