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Review – Beauty and the Beast – Theatre Royal St Helens

WRITER Liam Mellor’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast for Regal Entertainments sensibly relies more heavily on Hollywood’s telling of the story than the many other versions of the 18th Century fairytale that exist.

He dispenses with the complications of the story’s origins and retains characters like the Prince’s rival for Belle’s affections, Gaston, and a domestic servant ‘Potty Polly’ who, along with her son, French Frank, provides for much of the comedy in the show. A back-story is included early on which explains the transformation of the Prince into a Beast, with Gaston’s evil mother Madame Botox being the sorceress who places him under a spell. The rest of course is down to Belle, with the help of the good Fairy Rose, to coax out the tender side of the Beast and ensure that love will finally release him from the curse and return him to his former self.

This spring revival of the show is possibly something of a curate’s Easter egg. Lauren McCrory and Benjamin Keith reprise the roles of Belle and the Prince/Beast which they played at the Epstein at Christmas 2021/22, along with Lewis Devine as French Frank. This trio of key-stone roles are solid and confident, and really hold the whole thing together. Richard Aucott (last seen here as an ugly sister at Christmas) steps into the shoes and frocks of Potty Polly with great assurance and is an absolute natural giving us a piece of panto damery that Christopher Biggins would be proud of.

Maria Lovelady genuinely sparkles as fairy Rose, providing a perfect foil for Abigail Middleton’s venomous Madame Botox, while Auguste Voulton is all about striking poses as the narcissistic and indefatigable Gaston.

Along with its ‘Allo ‘Allo Franglais, the script despatches the story swiftly and with style, keeping panto elements like the omnipresent ghost scene in check, so that the Eastertide excitement of the young audience manages to maintain its frenzy almost as well as it does midwinter. Devine in particular has consummate skill at working a crowd, and his French Frank alongside Aucout’s Polly, whilst occasionally erring towards being potty mouthed, definitely have the children on their side, and the screams of delight are frequently almost deafening.

Musically the show has some very clever choices. Knowing that it can’t use the score from Disney (a fact which it makes a clever nod to with a rapidly extinguished soundbite) it relies on a catalogue of pop songs, many of which are cut into pieces and stitched into a deft story-telling patchwork. Here and there are some strong renditions, including ‘I Put A Spell On You’ from Madame Botox and ‘Reach for the Stars’ as a company number (poignantly with press night coinciding with the announcement the death of S Club 7’s Paul Cattermole). There is even a neatly inserted Eurovision reference, complete with a recreation of the famous Bucks Fizz ‘Making Your Mind Up’ costume reveal.

Elsewhere, many of the songs seem to be set in awkward keys for some of the performers, and Voulton in particular seems to be very much out of his comfort zone, not only in his tessitura, but in the part of Gaston generally, for which he seems an odd fit.

With the picturebook sets and kaleidoscopic costumes that we have come to expect from Regal Entertainments, the show pops with light and colour, and as always there is a fine performance from a company of dancers to fill the stage with movement. Director Chantelle Nolan knows how to keep the pace going, with some pyrotechnics shortly after the interval to (literally) warm the audience back up after their ice creams and an eye for minimising the usual panto-esque flummery to avoid things lagging. This is a show that pleases in all the right places and has the crowd on its feet at the end.

Beauty and the Beast is at St Helens Theatre Royal until 16th April.

Star rating – 3 stars

Review by Nigel Smith

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