BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
It's a tale as old as time with an extra helping of fairy dust - it's this year's Theatre Severn pantomime.
Shrewsbury's festive retelling of Beauty and the Beast is set in a picturesque French town.
The show follows the story of a prince cursed for his arrogance and vanity to a life of fur and fangs as he is taught kindness and love by the see-the-good-in-everyone beauty, Belle.
It's a ridiculous, chaotic, sugar rush of song and dance - nothing less than pure panto magic.
Guiding the audience through the tale as old as time, yet free from breaches of copyright, was the wholesome South Walian fairy Nuff, played by Jo Osmond.
Welcomed, as always from audiences at the Severn, by rapturous applause was the return of the theatre's in-house Dame, Brad Fitt.
With 30 years in the business under his belt, this year's panto marks Brad's 11th year as director and dame, but his 12th consecutive year performing at the theatre.
Complete with countless costume changes, each more fabulous and flamboyant than the last (kudos to the costume department for the French fancy in particular), Brad is unstoppably watchable. Leading a comedic triple act alongside Kane Oliver Parry, as Danton, and Tommy J Rollason, as Belle's brother Phillipe, the three were equal parts hilarious and endearing.
Tommy's boyish charm, impressive unicycle riding and unfettered positivity commanded the audience's youngest members and had every child (and many of the adults) in the house enthusiastically responding to his every prompt.
Kane, playing the other suitor vying for Belle's affection, was suitably handsome, arrogant and hilarious. His excellent voice and confidence on stage betrayed an already impressive theatre career.
No doubt everyone's highlight was the trio's performance of a messy slapstick 'If I didn't work in panto' routine that had audience members doubling over in their seats.
Vocally, Newport's Tom Carter-Miles, as the Beast, stole the show, with a voice that wouldn't be out of place in a West End performance of The Phantom of the Opera. His duets with Samantha Dorrance, playing Belle, were at points genuinely breath-taking.
Wolverhampton's own Disney princess, Samantha, who quite literally began her career on the Disney Channel, looked born to play the role. Sweet, stunning and with a voice that birds would flock to - she was perfect panto casting.
A surprising stand-out was villager Joshua Piper, who doubled up as Tik-Tok the talking clock. Was he French? Was he German? Who knows, I couldn't take my eyes off him.
The costumes were fantastic, the choreography impressive, and each cast member lit up the stage with joy and light and laughter; a must-see for Shropshire families over the festive season.
Megan Jones - Shropshire Star
We are spoiled in Shrewsbury, enjoying one of the best pantomimes in the UK, year in, year out. We’ve come to expect excellence from our favourite dame Brad Fitt and his team in these Christmas extravaganzas produced by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood of Evolution.
It’s hard to imagine how they could possibly improve on the formula and make us laugh harder, longer, louder. But this year, they absolutely have. Beauty and the Beast is a Level 9 all the way to the finish. From the first ‘Bonjour’ (this year the panto is set in France, or rather ‘La Rochelle Sur Severn’) to the final sparkle-fest of the marriage scene, there is absolutely no flagging.
They’ve sensibly kept all the favourite tricks. It would be a crime against children to lose the ghost bench; the panto has so much in it for grown-ups, but this one has the kids lifting the roof off. And the joke cart is an hilariously and deliberately laboured gag that never gets old.
And there’s always a gimmick – we won’t spoil a thing, aside from to say Beware the Drone of Love! This one’s absolute genius and is sure to be copied in theatres across the land once word gets out; the audience couldn’t get enough of it. And the Slapstick-o-Meter in the second half is completely off the scale. I’ll say no more. It’s absolutely marvellous mayhem.
But it’s the word play that shines brightest of all – and that’s down to the alchemical combination of Paul Hendy’s scripts and Brad’s razor wit. Aside from the sparkling one-liners (I’m definitely going to use ‘I can’t stand here all day with people less attractive than me’), and pithy puns, there’s the comedy of the unexpected – the mishaps and improv, which is where Brad as the gaudy inventor Madame Bellie Fillop really gets to shine. And we’re all hanging out for those precious moments when the cast crack themselves up, and the wheels almost come off.
It’s fun seeing the pantomime early in the run, before it beds in, and before the cast get too slick with their routines. Brad can turn blunders into blinders that have us squealing with delight. He’s the classiest, silliest, sharpest Dame in panto and we’re putty in his hands.
This year, he’s in a constellation of talent. Born entertainer Tommy J Rollason, as Madame Fillop’s son Phillipe, has mesmerising energy on stage – his cheeky chutzpah and winning charm gets us on side from the getgo. You might recognise him from Britain’s Got Talent but he’s got a solid track record playing panto-sidekicks and definitely deserves his place on Evolution’s A List.
Topping the vocal charts this year is Tom Carter-Miles in the role of the Beast – his musical pedigree (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) is evident in his anthemic numbers. He grew up in Newport, but is clearly destined for a huge career. Samantha Dorrance, playing Belle, returns to Theatre Severn for the first time since appearing in Shrewsbury last as Cinderella in 2010, and is as lovely as her character name suggests. Together, they give us some touching, romantic moments that give the show more depth than the usual panto chaos.
My favourite moments were courtesy of Kane Oliver Parry (Danton) - or rather his back view - with his swaggering self-love and blisteringly hot rendition of ‘I’m sexy and I know it’.
The gorgeous costumes and scenery feel like an act of generosity, or love, by the producers and their creative team, for the audience. They are brilliantly extravagant, from the spooky, multi-layered enchanted wood, with it spiderwebs and glowing eyes, to the inside of the Beast’s Palace, it is ever changing, and always magnificent. And for lavish costumes, you’d have to work hard to beat Madame La Bougie and Monsieur Tick Tock.
‘Your legend is assured in these parts’ Theatre Severn’s venues and programme manager David Jack told Brad after the show at the launch last night. And so it is.
The theatre is still in recovery from the devastation wreaked by Covid. Beauty and the Beast looks set to provide the perfect antidote to the misery in the world. Go Find Your Happy. Learn to laugh again.