Beauty and the Beast (Colchester, Mercury Theatre)
Writer and director Janice Dunn puts over a succession of moral, social and ecological messages in a child-friendly manner. In fact, the whole show is much more of a play with music and dancing than your run-of-the-mill pantomime. To the point where the traditional characters of the Dame (Ignatius Anthony as Twiggy), Beauty's father (Roger Delves-Broughton) and the duo of comic villains (David Tarkenter as Scuffle and Thomas Richardson as Swag) – not to mention the singalong – almost seem like excrescences.
We learn from woodland fairy Rosa – a sweet-voiced Josephine Warren – that the forest and its inhabitants are being blighted by the evil Botoxio. Clare Humphrey with her tousled hair, glittering asymmetrical makeup and with a lethal zapper always to hand makes her one of the most dominating villainesses ever to earn an audience’s boos and hisses. But we are also shown by a framed mime sequence that there’s a reason for her malevolence.
She was the daughter of parents who lavished all their attention on their son, Leo. In her frustration and through scientific experiment, she succeeded in brewing a concoction which tuned the boy into a beast. Pete Ashmore is very good as this shaggy half-wildman, half-animal creature, destroying as much through frustration as through instinct. It takes the sympathetic and clear-sighted Belle (Emily Bull) to be able to extract the man from the beast, not visibly but emotionally.
Cydney Uffindell-Phillips’ choreography and the musical direction of Graeme D Fresne are energetic and produce some enjoyable moments. Dale Superville as Rolo the Ranger (aka The Pieman) is extremely funny and deservedly a great success with the audience, especially in his exchanges with glove puppet Squirrel Nutcase, and the mobile hen-house of chickens. This is a musical play with quite complex ideas put over in clear language which makes no concession to any dumbing-down of either the issues or the vocabulary. It works splendidly.