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REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast, Tread the Boards

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Reviewed by Charles Essex, 18th December at Wethele Manor, continues at Attic Theatre until 2nd January

Tread the Boards productions do not go in for large casts, and the six actors in this version of Beauty and the Beast, written mainly by director and lead actor John-Robert Partridge, delivered a first-rate pantomime.

The script had both wit to make the parents smile and magical ingredients to keep the younger children entranced. All the cast delivered their lines confidently with good comic timing. Depending upon the responses from the audience, the actors engaged with them well and displayed good humour and the ability to ad-lib.

Beauty and the Beast from Tread the Boards
Beauty and the Beast from Tread the Boards

Although the production had almost no scenery and minimal props, another TTB trademark, this enhanced the narrative and acting. It was the characters portrayed by the actors that held the audience’s attention throughout and carried the story.

John-Robert was large-than-life in marvellously extravagant costumes which changed for his every appearance as Dotty. His accomplished performance was the backbone of the play. He adlibbed outrageously to the delight of the audience, and had a wide vocal range which he used to great comic effect. His butch, deep voice whilst dressed in women’s clothing was particularly amusing and tickled the children in the audience.

All the cast performed with self-assurance and skill and showed what strength in depth and versatility TTB has. It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless and this was a fluent performance.

Stalwart Andrew Woolley was in good form as Professor Crackpot, Belle’s father, maintaining his German accent throughout. Pete Meredith, who recently appeared as the eccentric King James in Ann Boleyn in Leamington, was excellent as the conceited Jean Claude van Dumb. His Elvis Presley song and dance routine as he clumsily tried to woo Belle (Abbie Drennan)showed impressive talent.

Beauty and the Beast from Tread the Boards
Beauty and the Beast from Tread the Boards

Solo singing can sometimes be a weak point in pantos but Abbie’s singing was strong and her delivery of both her songs and her lines was clear, with sensitive and gentle portrayal of Belle.

Alistair Oakley, as the prince who was changed into the beast, portrayed the transformation from hideous embittered beast to someone who has become tender-hearted and who found love. Florence Sherratt was jaunty and had the right amount of enthusiasm as the fairy Bowbells whose narration set the scenes as the play moved along apace. Elliott Wallis was impressive as the solo musician providing live music to accompany the songs, some of which he wrote or were pop songs appropriate to the story.

This production is an ideal outing for all the family to lift the winter blues and get back into the theatre-going after a long absence due to you-know-what or as a first introduction to theatre for youngsters to enjoy the magic of being transported by one’s own imagination to another world.

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