REVIEW: Beauty and The Beast

One thing to remember when you enter the Waterfront Studio for their annual panto is not to expect anything reverent or respectful in terms of a traditional fairy tale storyline.

Both writer Patrick J O’Reilly and director Lisa May have become renowned for boundary-breaking theatre - and with Beauty And The Beast, as with last year’s Sleeping Beauty (which O’Reilly and May also collaborated on) there are no boundaries.
No fourth wall, rules or restrictions.

Only the slimmest of adherence to the popular tale of the hairy monster and the lovely young girl who meet, greet and eat (together, not each other!) is required in another concise, concept-heavy extravaganza which lives off brash craziness, cast charisma and audience participation full stop.

And once Fairy Pretty of Belfast City (Rosie Barry) has introduced the show as only she can, it’s time for the surfeit of contemporary and localised one-liners, songs, dances, boos, hisses and so on to rise to the surface and pretty much stay there for the night.

This time, panto dame Nanny B (the evergreen Gordon “Trudy Scrumptious” Crawford) has an assistant – the anthropomorphic dog Beaudacious (Gary Crossan and Gavin Peden) who always arrives on cue when the audience calls out for him. It’s up to them to see that this popular story of Belle (Sharon Duffy) and her beast (Crossan) has a happy ending. Although of course, there will be obstacles.
Like Prince Ponce (Peden), the pasty-faced Gaston equivalent with abominable conduct and a dress sense to match.

His entitled manner, speech impediments, turquoise jacket and surfer dude shorts make him an intolerable anachronism who can’t have who he wants because “it’s the twenty-first century”!

Thanks to Gavin Peden’s strong comic timing, he’s also memorable. So too is Rosie McClelland, whose Grand High Witch accent, false horns and red-and-black costuming showing just how rotten her Fairy... er... Rotten is. She loves a good booooooo-gie woogie, if you get my drift, and the audience are all too happy to oblige.
They’re equally obliging, if not more so, towards the sweetness.

Sharon Duffy’s underplayed yet undeniable charm creates a lovable Belle, a friendly stage presence that the boys and girls in the audience easily connect with. Rosie Barry is similarly appealing, the Swingtime Starlet’s vocal prowess and comic aptitude shining in a series of duets, several deliberately bad jokes and the multiple roles of Tick Tock (the show’s Cogsworth), a Flowerpot Twin (the other is McClelland), and one of three yoga-loving vegan wolves (seriously) who are of no use to Fairy Rotten in capturing Belle.

These wolves are arguably the best of the many comic sketches O’Reilly and May dream up. Another favourite of mine features Snow White’s hair getting messed up and Goldilocks’ face changing. (If you remember Roald Dahl’s sensibilities regarding the porridge-thieving, chair-breaking girl, you’ll have no sympathy - and find it funnier still.)

Not everything works, alas, and I don’t just mean the jokes. The first act seems a little tepid by May’s high standards – a slight sense of restraint, almost safety, hangs over the production as the cast seek to ease their way into the rhythm of the piece. It is almost as if they are holding back a little from fully unleashing the verve and madness that we know the Waterfront can provide, although to be fair, this is also dependent on audience involvement.

Being very early in the run, however, this can be excused, and more than enough ideas stick to give us the “value for money” feel we are looking for and the show is going for.
Really, Beauty And The Beast is what it is - roughly two hours of often inspiring fun and frolics performed by a cast who clearly love what they do, with an earwormy singalong at the very end to boot. It may not be your typical beauty of a piece, but it’s not beastly in the slightest.

Simon Fallaha

Beauty And The Beast runs at Belfast's Waterfront Hall Studio until 06 January, 2019. For more information, go to

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