By Eloise Churchman and Claudia Bradley
Glitz, glamour, and a touch of adult humour are back at the Mercury Theatre with Beauty and the Beast, set in the French village of Colchestérre.
The tale as old as time has been injected with more than a handful of sugar this winter, as Colchestérre plays home to intelligent, warm-hearted Belle and the lonely misunderstood Beast, drawn together by their love for adventure. Will the two of them ever be persuaded they’re the perfect match before the last rose petal falls?
Down from the ceiling to the decadent stage floated Cupid (Sasha Latoya), sat glittering on her cloud and itching to spill all the juicy goss on her plans. Singing us ‘La Vie en Rose’, life in the theatre certainly was ‘en rose’, making it a fitting song to lead us to the land of panto.
Alexandra Barredo brought more magic to the stage than Cupid’s dust as our Belle, and Daniel Jagusz-Holley’s portrayal of the Beast was lovable and inventive. The pair’s performance was as heart-melting as it was sweet; it’s no wonder Alexandra was the lead in Chelmsford Civic’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and that Daniel made it to the Britain’s Got Talent finals with The Kingdom Tenors in 2015.
Never have we seen a pantomime so interactive with the audience. With countless jokes whipped up on the spot, there wasn’t a political reference that didn’t receive a laugh. From Matt Hancock “taking a few wrong turns,” to Liz Truss’ remarkably short autobiography, they provided the peak of comedy we all needed and appreciated.
The night truly delivered a performance for all ages, with children giggling to the “poo-poo” and farting jokes at the hands of ‘Almondé’ (Dale Superville) and adults in stitches from those bits the children didn’t quite understand, courtesy of Anthony Stuart Hicks: the pinnacle of the pantomime, the icon that is the Dame.
Hicks’ ‘Betty Bon Bon’ catered to the adults in a way that was (mostly) subtle enough for the children’s innocence to be preserved. Deliciously dressed in the tallest stilettos, candy-covered skirts, and a bubble-gum pink wig, it’s no wonder the Mercury kept him for his seventh pantomime season.
Costume designer Jasmine Swan made sure every cast member sparkled like a thousand iced gems. Almondé’s vivid rainbow garments certainly caught the eye in a colourful candy cascade; the designs were simply scrumptious, and the audience ate them up.
The show certainly looked like it was straight from the mind of a six-year-old; Director Donnacadh O’Briain “consulted” his young and creative daughter, who provided the secret ingredient for the recipe of fun, madness, and mayhem in the very best sense.
O’Brian explained: “Month on month this show has slowly but surely become a reality, a living breathing thing of its own. And at every juncture we’ve asked ourselves the same question: ‘What is the most fun way to do this bit?’ And we’ve always gone with the answer.”
The second scene certainly featured an abundance of trumpets, and we can’t forget the blue, pink and purple tri-coloured ‘uni-donk’ keeping us entertained with its dance moves. The fun was in every child’s gleeful “He’s behind you!”, mixing the roots of pantomime with more modern twists.
Writer Andrew Pollard was the vessel for the wild and wonderful fantasies, perfectly translating them from mind to paper. With 15 years as the writer and Dame at Greenwich Theatre, Pollard’s “passion for pantomime” added a great layer of flavour to the production.
The team pulled out all the gobstoppers with the music, with recognisable songs from the likes of Lizzo and Pharrell Williams (because it is ‘About That Time’ we were all ‘Happy’). If you dare to sit there and not sing, Betty Bon Bon will notice you! The most impressive vocals of the night for us came from Jamie Pruden, who played the spectacular villain of Spite.
As spectators, we felt like part of the family as the cast chatted with the audience and spun their answers into jokes. The competitive singalong of ‘Sweet Caroline’ at the end kept the festive atmosphere going from start to finish, and it was the perfect end after the final song, ‘I’ve Got the Music in Me’, sung by the entire cast.
With a pop of streamers, bows were taken and claps were clapped. Energy was bursting from every seat in the house and every corner of the stage.
To close, Stuart-Hicks took a poignant but hopeful moment to acknowledge our current living situation in the UK. He spoke of people struggling financially, of those fleeing countries of war, and how the Mercury Theatre was a home for many of these people. Imploring the audience, he asked if they were able to donate any amount to keep the theatre running for those who need it.
He finished: “The Mercury is for you and because of you.”
The curtain fell, the lights came on, and people began to filter out. At the exit, there were donation pots for anyone with change to spare. And alongside the magical tinkle of coins, we heard a little boy say: “That was the best thing ever.” And it was.
Ticket prices range from £15-£25. The theatre also offers a BSL performance, a captioned performance, and an audio-described performance, even including a touch tour.
See here for tickets.
Runs until 15th January.