Review: Beauty and the Beast at Colchester Mercury until January 7.

Beauty and the Beast at Colchester Mercury until January 7.

To judge one of these Christmas shows properly you have to attend a matinee because the proof of the panto pudding is always in how the kids devour it. There’s a careful balance needed to keep young eyes focused sharply on the stage and Janice Dunn knows her stuff.

She’s been writing the Mercury pantomimes for several years and she keeps the adult guff to a minimum, slips in plenty of songs and corny gags, constant scene changes and just enough scary business to excite but not get the whole audience heading for the exits in a terrified panic.

The most important thing is to tell a good, clear story. The young know their fairy tales, don’t want them changed out of sight and that’s what they get here. But this is Dunn not Disney.

She’s left out a lot, introduced some characters of her own but still has Belle and the Beast finding their vital romantic ending, although in my book it would be more effective if he then returned to customary handsome prince form instead of remaining like a cuddly large cat. But what do I know? The children love it.

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This version has Botoxia as the evil one, Beast’s sister, who has turned him into an animal. She enjoys deforestation and burning down villages and Clare Humphrey, a Mercury company regular, is clearly enjoying this excursion into thespian wickedness. And she knows how to deliver a number.

Most of the comedy comes from Ignatius Anthony’s Dame Twiggy and Dale Superville, who this year returns as Rolo the Ranger, a restless bundle of energy and laughter. He’s supported by Scuffle and Swag, David Tarkenter and Thomas Richardson, as Botoxia’s inept sidekicks who, of course, get everything wrong.

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Emily Bull is a delightful Belle and Pete Ashmore a fine Beast and their duet with If I Loved You is one of the singing highlights of the show. Josephine Warren adds the important touch of magic as the fairy Rosa and Roger Delves-Broughton’s Bertie has fun in the singalong with the audience.

Cydney Uffindell-Phillips leads the lively chorus with Jonathan Dearden, Daniel Tawse and bright teams of local children.

David Henshall

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