Beauty and the Beast (Ipswich – panto)
The New Wolsey Theatre's rock and roll pantomime has become a staple of an Ipswich Christmas; yet again Peter Rowe's well-written show satisfies.
This adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is set in the Roaring Twenties, cleverly reflecting the impending bad times that Beauty's family, the declining Beauregardes would face.
Backgrounding is reflected in subtle touches made by the set and costume designer (Barney George), echoed also by the art deco stage and the flapper style dresses that Beauty's sisters Luxury (Sarah Mahony) and Vanity (Nicola Bryan) wear.
As well as clever touches such as these, the creative team behind this pantomime create something rather special when they bring the traditional elements of pantomime (the audience interaction and slapstick humour) along with touches of blockbuster West End musical.
This is notable when the accomplished cast of actor-musicians smoothly deliver many well-known numbers such as Fairground Attraction's "Perfect" or Robbie Williams "Let me entertain you" without any jarring to the storyline.
The cast of this production really take a good script and then lift it to another level and the mixture of both debut and more experienced performers is seamless, bringing energy and pace to this production. Lucy Wells' Beauty and Dan de Cruz as the transformed Prince are perfectly matched and deliver accomplished performances, both speaking and singing.
Both actors add depth and character to their leading roles – Wells' Beauty is gutsy and determined and de Cruz's demeanour as the Beast is powerful.
An inspiring comic duo is Matt Jopling (Desperate Dan) and Eamonn Fleming (Dame Bessie Bigbreaths), who engage well with the audience on their pantomime debut. While some of their dialogue is peppered with adult humour, this is delivered naturally and so allows the adults who get the joke to laugh without causing any awkward moments with the children present.
In addition to these dynamic duos, much credit must go to other performers. A rather young-looking Fairy Godmother Fairy Fortunate (Esther Biddle) who magically ascends and descends through trap doors is impressive. So is the comic timing of Sarah Mahony and Nicola Bryan along with the energy and agility of Ben Goffe and Adam Langstaff as the grooms.
Some West End productions seem to lack story and just seem like an excuse to raid a back catalogue of hits. The New Wolsey Theatre has rather cleverly managed to blend the warmth and humour of a family pantomime, the spectacle of a rock concert and the inventiveness of setting the whole thing during those Roaring Twenties.
Beauty and the Beast continues at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 31 January.