Enchanted roses, glittering costumes and an all-star cast make Beauty and the Beast one of the most magical pantomimes in Berkshire this Christmas.
Imagine Theatre and The Hexagon have once again waved their magic wands and come up with a show which ticks all the ribbon-wrapped boxes for a fantastic family outing. Back on the Reading stage for the third year in a row is CBeebies favourite Justin Fletcher, who bounded out to cheers and cries of ‘Mr Tumble!’ from the youngsters down at the front. The young audience adored Justin’s wacky smiles and slapstick routines, while grown-up admiration has to be given for his physical comedy and tireless enthusiasm. How he keeps such a broad smile on his face is as much a mystery as how Santa gets his reindeer to fly.
Teaming up with Justin for the third year is Jolyon Dixon, decked out in an array of colourful and zany dresses as Dame Dorothy Do-it. It is also Jolyon’s third year at The Hexagon and it’s easy to see why the casting directors keep calling him and Justin back to panto land. The duo offered some hilarious set pieces, particularly a messy ‘cleaning’ scene, where they strayed from the script and made the audience laugh as much for their ad-libs as for their slipping and sliding around the foamy stage. The two colourful characters bounced off each other both literally and with their witty one liners, making little faces shriek with laughter in the audience.
A new face for this year’s show was ’Allo ’Allo star Vicki Michelle, who sparkled as the Enchantress, gracefully guiding the audience through the show, while TV star Nigel Nevinson gave a sweet and cuddly version of Beauty’s father. Beauty herself, played by Arts Educational School graduate Emma Housley, was pretty and charming, presented similarly to Disney’s Belle with her blue dress and American accent. Beauty and villain Eugene (Ian Knauer) seemed to be the only Americans in the village, but then again anything goes in panto land.
The beast (David J Higgins) was all gruff-voiced and seething, springing from the darkness and bringing a little bit of real fear for the tiniest in the audience with his glaring red eyes. But he quickly mellowed, showing his softer side with Beauty and winning audiences over with a romantic duet.
Well-known songs were tweaked slightly for the show, with One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful acting as a title track, and being danced to by talented young performers who make up the local panto babes. A few classic panto surprises also cropped up throughout the show, delighting the audience and making Beauty and the Beast a very magical production indeed.
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