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Beauty and the Beast

by on 24 January 2023

Not Skin Deep

Beauty and the Beast

by Loz Keal

Edmundians at Cheray Hall, Whitton until 28th January

Review by Alex Montague  

The Edmundians dependably produce an annual pantomime using the post-Christmas slot to provide cheer and enjoyment to family members of all ages.  This year was no different, and under the reliable direction of Jackie Howting, with additional production by Ellen Walker Dibella, they incorporate all the stock pantomime characters and included lots of audience participation, boos and cheers and even a ghostly ‘he’s behind you’ scene in this version of Beauty and the Beast written by Loz Keal.  We were also treated to a number of large scale music and dance numbers, some using the whole cast, which was a fresh and innovative approach for the Edmundians.  Young Izabelle Sochanik-Oliver’s impeccable choreography made full use of the large cast of adults and children, who clearly had spent many hours practicing their moves to get crisply in-synch and step-perfect. 

In the prologue we meet the enchantress (Theresa McCulloch), resplendent in her beautiful glistering gown, who is magically transformed from an old beggar woman to a mystical sorcerer by a spell set by adorable identical fairies (Ciara and Holly Nunn).  Spell-setting abounds with a further spell being cast on the acerbic and selfish Prince (a teenage Emily Hill-Kelly) who transforms with effective stage trickery from a handsome young man to the Incredible Hulk-like Beast (Terry Bedell) with accompanying ripped tunic and pantaloons.  This transformation is quite an incredible moment and must have been rather scary for the younger audience members, not to mention his servant (Roisin McKernan-Wink), who attempts to convince him to behave more kindly to his potential guest. 

Terry Bedell’s portrayal of the Beast, devastated by this curse, is magnificent and throughout the show he gives an impressive performance through both his powerful delivery and rich baritone singing.  We also learn that the Beast is given a magical rose which acts as a twelve-petal countdown to his becoming loving and to his ultimate redemption.  Dave Young and Dave Breen’s special effects of a back-lit gauze with over-sized mechanical rose, rotating to lose one petal at a time, is cleverly designed, leaving the audience baffled as to how this effect is achieved. 

We go straight into the first upbeat musical number, We are Family which really picks up the pace and gives us a glimpse of the many feel-good song and dance routines that are to come.  This well-chosen number really feels like an appropriate motto for the company involved in this production, given the many members of the same family involved as cast, crew, front of house and backstage helpers.  Special mention must be made of Paul ‘Wiz’ Baker’s musical arrangements and performance, which means none of the tunes slow the pace of the story, although at times the sound balance is a little amiss and overpowers the cast’s vocals. 

We meet our delightful Dame Di (Marc Batten) who provides friendly respite and comic relief for the audience recovering from the Beast’s intimidating growls.  What a treat to see – he puts the audience at ease with his portrayal of this loveable character who effortlessly interacts with the crowd, donning his many costumes (including his fluorescent socks and bright DM boots).  His earnest son, Hoover, played with spritely energy by teenager Aoife Kingsland, contrasts sharply with Grace Full (Lesley Rathbone) and Hope Full (Ellen Walker-Dibella), the two elder daughters of the long-suffering merchant Master Full (Steve Wink).  Lesley and Ellen’s portrayal of this spiteful and obnoxious pair brings many laughs, and the audience enjoy their jazz-hands motif each time they buy copious amounts of ‘stuff’ with their father’s money.  This is a habit they intend to continue through marrying impressively costumed suitors, Dandy Andy and Silly Billy, played with aplomb in the comic pairing of Monica Kingsland and Zofia Sochanik. 

Savannah Swyer plays our heroine Beauty, Master Full’s youngest daughter, who portrays kindness and goodness of heart with ease: she is entirely natural and suited to this part.  Her lovely singing voice and dancing talents are put to good use in Stronger and the later love song with the Beast in the 80’s ballard, Right Here Waiting.

A combination of brightly coloured backdrops and a painted panoramic transverse curtain, expertly and effectively designed and painted by Becky Halden, transports us to the Beast’s castle, where we meet his servants who have also been cursed to be transformed into household tableware.

We have the candlestick (Ciara McKernan-Wink) whose fiery headdress and hands burn brightly, presumably posing a significant fire risk to the small napkins (James Kingsland and Tobi Sochanik-Oliver); the quartet of the plate, knife, fork and spoon (Lily Halden, Evie Nunn, Izabelle Sochanik-Oliver, Saoirse Kingsland) whose dancing talents provide extra backing dancers in a couple of scenes and whose sparkly waistcoats and large 3D props are hugely eye catching; and two-tone salt and pepper, a seasoned performance by Evie Schaapveld, whose comic yet re-assuring demeanour adds to the ensemble’s charm.

It is great to see the younger members of the company being given chance to have larger parts than being un-named chorus members.   Our steadfast team of tableware not only help orchestrate the Beast attempting to woo and propose to Beauty in an hilarious dinner scene of a romantic McDonald’s Happy Meal, with a breath-taking costume moment of Beauty in her magnificent yellow Disney-style gown and up-do, but they also assist in the final battle scene.  Here the Beast succumbs to the angry mob before more clever stage trickery gives us the magical transformation back to the dashing Prince. The part returns to our Principal boy, Emily Hill-Kelly, who plays her character with heartfelt warm emotion in contrast to her earlier scene of sneering irritation. The whole cast performs Spice up Your Life’ in a fun filled finale. 

Again, The Edmundians have truly excelled, and despite some last-minute re-casting, have ingeniously turned their limited church hall setting into an expansive set.  They produce a big show with a large cast, commendably wide-ranging in age, all of whom are able to showcase their talents with great accompanying costumes, hair styling, set, special effects, props, lighting and music – thank you Edmundians for overcoming all these obstacles.

As is often heard in show-biz … …  ‘The show must go on!’

Alex Montague, January 2023

Photography by Juliette Wait and Paula Young

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