Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Beauty and the Beast – banterific with fabulous special effects (Grand Opera House until 12 January)

Beauty and the Beast starts with a flash bang wallop and the pyrotechnics continue throughout the Grand Opera House’s 2019 pantomime. Qdos Entertainment are running 35 pantomimes across the UK this Christmas, and they have the organisational muscle and the advance box office takings to throw everything at this production.

There are adult dancers in psychedelic costumes, young ones from the McMaster Stage School, magical tricks, a rose shedding its petals, a huge cake that’s on stage for less than a minute, fireworks shooting across the stage, cast members flying up into the air, and a sports car flying out over the audience.

Yet it’s the brass neck of May McFettridge (playing Mrs Potty but generally referred to as ‘May’ throughout) that draws the best audience reaction (and the standing ovation at the end). Scriptwriter Alan McHugh must weep buckets at the realisation that much of what he supplies in the script will be ripped out and replaced with local banter, insulting everyone brave enough to sit in the front two rows. It’s tiresome stuff, and based around a slightly uncomfortably dated sensibility, but it’s undoubtedly crowd pleasing. A heckler got their just comeuppance last night with a sharp putdown underlining the fact that John Linehan– celebrating 30 years in panto this season – won’t be letting go of May’s star billing anytime soon.

Yet the witty repartee and big production values comes at a cost. The actual story of Beauty and the Beast is in tatters. We jump from the Beast being scary to his plea to Belle that “I want you to be welcome here, not afraid” in a heartbeat. Blink and you’ll miss the reason why two cast members jump into the fabulous special effect sports car to race back to the village – I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a Dale Farm milk float – and still fail to get there first. The punchline to one of Mandy Muden’s magic tricks – somewhat overshadowed by the brilliantly dour response of the audience volunteer up on stage – was mumbled and four minutes of build-up disappeared into a puff of confusion. The Enchantress (Joanna O’Hara) run on stage and helpfully flags up where we’ve got to in the story. The whole is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

“Empty castle, empty corridors, empty rooms – imaging having a castle like that in Belfast” jokes the Beast in one of the topical references. The Beast is played by Ben Richards who portrays a real sense of anguish in his scenes opposite Belle. Georgia Lennon is one of the most junior (and least well paid) principal actors in the show, yet is one of the few who gets to show off her acting talent. Her Belle is tender and determined and there’s a real sense of emotion and theatre when she’s on stage with Richards. Danny Bayne plays the baddie with conviction and a correct amount of overacting necessary for pantomime, though his character’s name, Flash Harry, may make punters wonder whether the local Freddie Mercury impersonator now has a shaved-chested impersonator. (Oh no he doesn’t.)

Throw in a spot of Ed Sheeran Thinking Out Loud, a puntastic medley of songs that get the adults singing along, a familiar but effective 12 Days of Christmas sketch complete with rehearsed mistakes that joyously mix in with genuine slipups to create one of the funniest moments of the show, and you have the two hour phenomenon that is the hugely popular Grand Opera House festive show. It’s unlike any other pantomime you’ll see on these islands. If the special effects were removed, would the spectacle still shine so bright?

“We can’t change how we look; but we can choose how we behave” says Belle as she challenges the Beast’s negative thinking. Maybe that’s also a challenge to the central Belfast venue which is going dark at the end of this pantomime run to refit its interior and modernise its customer service areas. Maybe the worn out jokes about religion and asides about sexuality need to put in the builder’s skip and some plush and more up-to-date humour fitted into next year’s show (Goldilocks and the Three Bears, already 30% of seats sold).

Beauty and the Beast continues at the Grand Opera House until Sunday 12 January. Oh yes it is …


Unknown said...

This pantomime is totally dated and the May McFetridge brand has run its course. The show I saw on Saturday was tired, lacking energy, conviction, connection to the audience. The audience response was very luke warm and there was applause only Im sure out of politeness. The story, if there is one is very disjointed and at times makes no sense at all! Most of the acting was amateur especially from Paddy (the characters name and May herself. They adlib outragiously and it just isnt funny!!!!!!!! Infact its all rather embarrassing! Th woman magician from BGT should have stayed there and not venture on the stage, her performance was completely without conviction and just seemed to pad out a very weak show even making it weaker. There is one scene with the Magician, May and Paddy in a bedroom scene which I could make neither head or tail off! Anyway I could go on and on about this but hopefully this tired, souless farce will come to an end soon. Surely Northern Ireland deserves better than this!

Whitney D said...

Grateful for sharing this