Panto season is officially upon us. This year, Nottingham Playhouse has treated Beauty and the Beast to a bit of Kenneth Alan Taylor magic to serve up a dazzling string of performances over the festive season.
|Photo: Robert Day|
Although a tale as old as time, the Playhouse has succeeded in bringing this version smack bang up-to-date, with highly topical asides, as well as musical numbers inspired by the likes of Alesha-strictly-come-Dixon: making the performance easily accessible to both a young audience and anyone who is a fan of Saturday night T.V. Further, the usual heckling ("he's/she's behind you") is kept to a minimum and used with simple, but devastatingly hilarious effect. There is something quite refreshing about this approach: instead of relying upon typical panto conventions, the production achieves an effective blend of outright slapstick, the most obvious jokes and the driest wit to ensure that all audience members are suitably tickled throughout.
Each and every character on stage was exceptional: the chemistry, flair and enthusiasm spills into the audience and instantly captivates. Not only were the parts well cast, but it was also pleasing to acknowledge a balance between the obviously experienced and those budding fledglings. There was no overbearing presence, but rather each actor succeeded in holding his own.
|Photo: Robert Day|
Of course, despite this, the dame always deserves an extra mention and Madame Fifi, played by John Elkington, is no exception. Boasting a natural exuberance, more wardrobe changes than Mr Benn and a cracking pair of legs, Elkington's performance is truly spectacular. His ability to improvise and interact with the audience is remarkable; although if you are sitting towards the front, keep your head down, as you certainly don't want to catch his tongue.
Of further note is the extraordinarily elaborate set which, although boasting a delightful painting-by-numbers quality, was highly sophisticated, stunningly finished and seamlessly executed. The crew also made use of carefully considered lighting to create subtle atmosphere and drama, which is particularly effective when introducing the Beast: who, in all honesty, is bloody scary at times.
This production truly has all the magic of a Disney film and - although it is easy to revert to cliché when in panto-land - it really does warm the heart: in fact it reaches right in and gives it a good squeeze. With a giggle around every corner, uproarious characters and a highly coloured vivaciousness, Beauty and the Beast will really charm your socks off.
Beauty and the Beast plays at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 23rd January 2010