A perfect comic confection

Beauty and the Beast, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until January 26So, the first of the region's professional pantomimes is under way. Already, the trademark Peter Rowe rock panto looks to be on its way to being a huge hit.

Ivan Howlett

Beauty and the Beast, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until January 26

So, the first of the region's professional pantomimes is under way. Already, the trademark Peter Rowe rock panto looks to be on its way to being a huge hit. Tickets resemble hotcakes in the way they are disappearing, even though Beauty and the Beast opened nearer to Guy Fawkes Night than Christmas.

Beauty and the Beast is well outside the top five most performed panto themes, but it's a lovely romantic tale as filmmakers have often realised. There's lots of kindness and gentleness as well as magic. The only villain worth hissing, the Wicked Witch who turns the handsome King Promising (Matthew Quinn) into a Beast at the beginning of the tale, is only there briefly and in fact teaches the young royal a lesson he needs to learn.


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It's a panto strong on story, and not padded out by sausages and custard pies. The romance works particularly well when Beauty (a delightful Sarah Mahony), goes, as a hostage for her family, to the Beast's mysterious forest castle. While there she finds herself kindly and lovingly treated. So much so, that her heart begins to warm to the Beast.

The show, though, is about festivity. The cast, as you'd expect with Peter Rowe's Christmas productions is multi-talented. The performers are on stage all the time either as various characters or as multi -instrument musicians - the only time they go out of our sight is during a quick costume change. So, having waved her wand and done a bit of narration, the fairy godmother is to be found a minute later on tenor sax or playing keyboards.

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The numbers - from Hot Stuff, Dancing in the Moonlight, Keep on Running, Let Me Entertain You to You've Got A Friend tumble out joyously. There's plenty of fun, slapstick, audience calling and saucy innuendo. It's a well-dressed show with lavish blue gold and satin for the posh characters, gaudy stripes for the comic figures.

Suffolk and Ipswich get a thorough teasing, no more so than when Dame Bessie Bigbreaths (Justin Brett) shows us her drawers to reveal the Ipswich Town badge on her sit-upon.

This is a team who've frequently worked together. They're all good but Gergory Clarke makes a perky Desperate Dan, Justin Brett a rude comic dame, and Rona McGregor a nicely comic Good Fairy Fortunate

Let's hope the audience, many who may not be regular theatregoers, get a lasting taste for the magic of live theatre.

Ivan Howlett

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