King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 20 January 2019
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
Beauty & the Beast comes to the King’s for the first time since 1946 in a pantomime that continues a classic run of hits and is sticking around well into January next year.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first – modern King’s Theatre legend Andy Gray had to absent himself from this year’s panto for health reasons, but the good news is, he’s doing well and planning to be back next year for Goldilocks.
The other good news is that Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and the rest of the production team do him proud with another unmissable panto. This year the fairytale on which to hang the classic comedy routines is Beauty & the Beast, a tale of Stockholm syndrome.
You know the one: girl meets boy, boy is a shallow sort who doesn’t recognise a fairy in old hag drag and is transformed into a beast-man, girl decides he’s worth the odd snog anyway… there’s no time here for the nuanced journey that sees Belle fall for Beast in the Disney cartoon. Nope, she’s not five minutes a prisoner than she’s mooning over her captor.
Honestly, if Belle would just give that nice Flash Boaby a chance… He’s a bit of a bore but he doesn’t abuse old ladies and toss innocent gels in prison. The Beast does have one cheerleader, the marvellous Mrs May Potty, aka Auntie May, aka Stewart, a great Dame if ever there was one. Auntie May reckons Belle is just the girl to melt her master’s cruel heart, and it turns out she’s right.
So Auntie May propels the plot, but mainly she’s there to have fun. Lots and lots of fun, usually with Stott’s Flash Boaby. I’m sure the lads miss Gray, but the show must go on and broadcaster Stott has long since earned his clown stripes – he doesn’t have Stewart’s singing chops but he’s a fine foil for Auntie May and equal partner in laughter generation.
By this point there’d be ructions were we not treated to Stott’s signature song That’s Fife, here enhanced by the entire chorus becoming Vegas backing singers. Something new is Stott’s take on a James Bond theme, which forever more shall be You Ken My Name – it’s cracking cornball stuff.
Grant Stott as Flash Boaby with Gillian Parkhouse (Belle) & Chris Cowley (Beast). Pic: Douglas Robertson
And Stott and Stewart work wonders with the old shopping trolley routine. At times the humour descends to the level of single entendre – do we really want to hear about a naked Boaby inviting a girl up to his room? – but why shouldn’t the term ‘family panto’ encompass pervy old Uncle Stan?
Gray’s absence makes room for Gillian Parkhouse’s Belle – last year’s Cinderella – to be the third leg of one of those long, complicated tongue-twisting routines Stewart, Stott and Gray do so well, and she’s just excellent, revelling in the nonsense and knowing just when to corpse. She also gets to show off her powerful pipes in a few numbers, a duet with the Beast being the highlight.
We’re shown the Beast being cursed by the Enchantress at the start of the show, so it’s no surprise that he turns out to be panto-pretty (ie needs a haircut). Shouldn’t the final reveal be a, you know, reveal? A bit of gauze doesn’t stop us seeing the Prince Calum was a fine figure of a fop.
Chris Cowley hasn’t got much – well, anything – to work with in terms of making the Beast sympathetic. Our supposed hero moves from bully to self-pitying bore to entitled aristocrat – but he has a nice singing voice and works that monster look.
humanity and humility
Jacqueline Hughes is the Enchantress who teaches Prince Calum a lesson about humanity and humility, though to be honest, her curse placing is more entrapment than justice. She pops up throughout the play explaining the mechanics of her magic and delivering songs that desperately want to be Disney numbers – the spellbinder doesn’t quite sing ‘take as old as time’, but near as dammit.
Jacqueline Hughes as the Enchantress. Pic Douglas Robertson
She does get a wonderful ball of light for transport purposes, courtesy of the special effects people – it’s reminiscent of Good Witch of the South Glinda’s bubble in the Wizard of Oz, and typical of this show’s superb production values. Convincing ghosts, manimal metamorphoses, a flying car – nothing is beyond this budget. A little less dry ice to choke the front rows would be smashing, though.
Someone I’d like to have seen a lot more of is Daniel Cullen as Dougal, Belle’s brother, who invents stuff to make his sister happy because all they have is each other >sob<. Such as a Truth Trunk that gives Stott one of his best moments. Cullen, a late addition after the script’s unexpected revamp, never tries to be Gray – he does his own thing and he’s always a fun presence.
It’s rare that today’s pantos invite children on stage, but here a quartet of wee characters come forward for a singsong with Auntie May, giving us the show’s funniest sequence – no one does audience interaction like Stewart, and this is pure gold.
By my count, director Ed Curtis’s production features two songs from The Greatest Showman, one of them reprised, which sounds too many for a show that isn’t The Greatest Showman, but what the heck, they’re great tunes, they work well with the panto, and everyone loved them.
If you’re a King’s regular, this year’s panto won’t disappoint. If you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?
Running time: Two hours, ten minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Saturday 1 December 2018 to Sunday 20 January 2019
Evenings, Tue – Sat: 7pm; Matinees (not Thurs): 2pm. Sun: 1pm & 5pm.
Tickets and further details: Book here.
Gillian Parkhouse as Belle, Chris Cowley as the Beast and the ensemble. Photo by Douglas Robertson