First published in The Times, Tuesday December 16 2015
Beauty and the Beast: Four Stars
Cinderella: Three Stars
Perth’s Victorian theatre may be in the midst of an extensive restoration but, for the second festive season in a row, the proscenium archway has been lovingly recreated on the stage of the city’s concert hall. This year’s pantomime, scripted by the ever-reliable Alan McHugh, is Beauty and the Beast, with a refreshing emphasis on the former rather than the latter.
The story unfolds against an array of gorgeous painted backdrops, created by the designer Ken Harrison, with stunning costumes to match, from Belle’s (AmyBeth Littlejohn) sumptuous gold ball gown to the increasingly over-the-top frocks and topknots modelled by Barrie Hunter’s Dame Betty Blumenthal.
Where Ian Grieve’s production has the edge on its many contemporaries is in its flawless balance of festive sparkle with skilled comic performances. Hunter and Harry Ward (as Boabby, the dame’s dopey sidekick with a heart of gold) are such strong stage presences that they make the business of whipping up audience participation look effortless. Amanda Beveridge brings some welcome neurosis and nuance to her role as the maleficent Deadly Nightshade. Littlejohn and Martin McCormick as the Beast are far funnier and more spirited than the usual drippy panto romantic leads.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
The ensemble, which also includes Angela Darcy as Poison Ivy, are all on song for the musical numbers, snappily staged with choreography by Lynne Bustard and woven into the swift-moving action. McHugh’s script – essentially a string of punchlines – delights the audience with its plethora of references to local institutions such as Murrays the Baker and the Loft nightclub.
The Byre’s Cinderella, written and directed by Gordon Barr, meanwhile, has an endearing, rough-around-the-edges quality to it that is openly acknowledged via the script’s many references to the show’s budget. Shoestring or not, Barr throws everything from the panto playbook at his production, from the chase around the auditorium to the strains of the Benny Hill Show theme tune to the upbeat final sing-along.
Pic: Peter Adamson
The script pokes fun at the Disneyfication of fairy tales, relocating the action to a dance school, presided over by Madam Zsa Zsa Diabolique (Donna Hazelton) and tended by Lynne Jenkinson’s light-on-her-feet Cinders. There’s a neat twist to the usual Cinderella-Prince Charming-Buttons love triangle while Alan Steele and Robert Elkin strike an engaging balance of warmth and grotesquerie as the ugly sisters. If the show feels a little overstuffed at times, with a few too many scenes and musical numbers, there’s enough colour and movement here to keep the audience shouting along with the action.