HATS OFF to The Elgiva for another spectacular in-house produced pantomime. It really has outdone itself. I was thrilled to once again see it be unique and avoid the conventional Jack and The Beanstalk, Cinderella and Dick Whittington pantos and opt for the beautiful tale of Beauty and the Beast instead.
Beauty and the Beast was one of my favourite films as a child (and still is now) so I was so excited to see the tale performed on the stage. While you can still see similarities to the Disney version the pantomime’s narrative is based more on the older and slightly darker fairytale, which means no dancing candles, clocks and pottery. Sorry kids.
I went along to the first showing of the panto at 10.30am on December 1, so I was expecting a few slip-ups and not a lot of energy because of the early hour. However, apart from a slight wig malfunction by Nurse Jackie O La La (played by Grange Hill’s Colin Ridgewell) which was corrected professionally and actually added humour to the show, it ran flawlessly and every member of the cast gave it 110 per cent.
Despite it being 10.30am the theatre was packed with pupils from Stony Dean School in Amersham. Even if you do not enjoy the pantomime, which I highly doubt, even going along to see the smiles on the children’s faces is truly magical and that alone is worth every penny.
The show begins with Beauty and the Beast and some rose petals falling projected on to a back drop the Disney theme tune. It looked very impressive and set the standard of what was to follow.
The show opens with the Spirit of the Rose, played by Chesham's own Alexis Caley, explaining the narrative in song to the tune of Science Fiction/Double Feature from The Rocky Horror Show.
I thought this worked really well and I like how after she has finished the song she made sure everyone understood the plot by quickly summing it up once more.
She explains how once upon a time there was a handsome but selfish prince, played by Chesham’s Lee Bright, who feel foul of a sorceress, Carabosse (played by Linda Clark), and was doomed to spend the next 500 years hidden in his castle in the guise of a grotesque beast. The only way to break the spell is if the beast learns to love and be loved, only then will he regain his true form and live – yes, you have guessed it, happily ever after.
We are then introduced to Carabosse who is on the opposite side of the stage (stage left of course adhering to tradition) to the Spirit of the Rose. After some banter between the two we learn of Carabosse's evil plan. The Spirit of the Rose believes Beauty is the one to break the curse and Carabosse has vowed to do anything she can to prevent it from happening.
Carabosse had the audience eating out of her hands as she got them to boo and hiss on queue. I thought Linda Clark did an absolutely sublime job as Carabosse, she was perfect for the role. She was able to get the audience to despise her character while at the same time deliver humour and get the audience to like her and enjoy her being on stage.
We are then taking to Cheshamvale where we meet our heroine Beauty, played by The Bill’s Nicola Alexis. We learn how our heroine is beautiful on both the outside and inside and is longing for adventure and to go outside Cheshamvale.
We then meet the other residents of Cheshamvale including Beauty’s father, The Mayor of Cheshamvale (played by Giles Stoakley), Beauty’s dog Dave who looks a lot like Scooby Doo, Billy (played by John Voce) who is secretly in love with Beauty and Billy’s sister Nurse Jackie ‘O La La’ who takes on the traditional pantomime role of the dame.
Billy is the character who most interacts with the crowd getting them to say 'oh yes she was', 'it is behind you' and other audience interactions. Voce does a really good job of getting the audience to have fun and into the spirit of the pantomime and the children in the crowd absolutely loved him.
Of course no pantomime is complete without the Dame and Ridgewell does a fantastic job and had more costume changes than a Lady GaGa concert. Nurse Jackie is always cracking jokes not just for the children but for the adults as well. And of course there are a few innuendos, but do not worry parents they are not too naughty.
Ridgewell did a cracking job and it was hard to believe this was his first role as a dame.
Someone else who is perfectly cast is Nicola Alexis as Beauty. Not only is she beautiful but she is perfect at portraying the sweet as sugar Beauty and getting the whole audience to love her.
Last year’s star of Robin Hood, Lee Bright, returned once more in the spotlight as Beast and is definitely the man for the job. My one criticism is you do not really get to see that much of him, especially in act one and I think that is a shame. I would have liked to have seen a little more of the relationship develop between Beauty and Beast.
Act one ends with Beauty going to stay with Beast at his castle for one year and a day to save her father's life. Act one does not end in the traditional pantomime way of all happy and cheery with an up-beat song but it is actually quite dark and leaves you feeling quite sorry for Beauty.
I think this worked really well because it helped to highlight the dark tone that lies within the fairytale and again it was quite refreshing to have tradition broken slightly.
The special effects used throughout the show were amazing, with the end of act one and the Beast transforming sticking out for me.
The set and costumes were also amazing. They were so colourful and sparkly and really complimented the narrative and helped to create the magic of the show.
Something else that worked well was the soundtrack, with the characters singing hits from the likes of Lady GaGa and JLS as well as the Bee Gees. There is definitely one song in the show that is guaranteed to have every member of the audience singing along or tapping their feet at one point or another.
There is also the pantomime tradition of an audience involvement song where the whole crowd are encouraged to join in with actions. This year it was ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’, so make sure you practise your moves because you will go head-to-head with the other side of the audience in a sing-off.
Audience interaction is another key feature of a pantomime and it is something that The Elgiva has done really well. If you are sitting at the back, do not fear, you will not be left out as at several points during the show characters will come out into the crowd and go all the way to the back of the auditorium.
If you are a little worried that the show may be a little childish for you, I can promise you it will not be the case. I had similar fears but my doubts were soon put to rest as the cast embarked on an energetic and colourful two-hour production that had all the children and adults in the audience joining in and filling the auditorium with laughter and applause.
At the end of the show there was not a single person still sitting. Everyone was up on their feet giving the cast and crew the applause that they truly deserved.
I already can not wait for next year’s pantomime although I think The Elgiva has a tough time on its hands to better this year's. Bravo.
l Beauty and the Beast is at The Elgiva in St Mary’s Way, Chesham, until Tuesday, January 3.
Off-peak tickets are adults £14.50, concessions £12.50, children £10.50, and family £45. Peak tickets are £16, £14, £12 and £50. Group discounts are available.
To book call 01494 582 900 or visit www.elgiva.com.