Reviewed by Aaron Holdaway
New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
There’s much to celebrate in this year’s ‘Christmas Show’ at the New Theatre Royal. Penned and directed by Scott Ramsay, the theatre’s own CEO, here the Christmas Show blends elements of classic panto, musical theatre and classy storytelling (with Fairies and Father Christmas thrown in) to portray the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
Whilst initially the pantomime elements seem to jar with the classy costuming (Naomi Gibbs) and set design of the piece, and at times it crosses borers confusingly between sincere storytelling and panto, by the time the second act rolls around the audience truly have the measure of it. This is never more evident than in Act Two’s ‘panto break’, where four key actors perform, partially out of character, the classic ‘If I were not upon the stage’ routine, gaining raucous applause.
The story begins rich in references to Portsmouth, as some of the principal roles form an acting troupe delivering a historical story of Portsmouth in the Old Theatre Royal. For some, the local self-referencing will grow to feel over-indulgent, particularly in the lengthy scene staged at the Old Theatre Royal. On the other hand however, it’s arguably pleasing to have something so locally referenced and sourced being celebrated in our city.
Whilst most work exceptionally well, there are also some laboured songs within the piece. Most notably, ‘A Musical’, from the musical ‘Something Rotten’, feels particularly shoe-horned into the show to create a show-stopping number and to get the gags of this Broadway favourite across. But others work brilliantly, particularly in the second act, where everything feels especially plot-relevant.
Ultimately the portions of the show which work best here are the actual plot-moving storytelling of the titular tale on offer. It’s well-told when it is allowed to without distraction, with some fantastic performances throughout.
Local boy Jamie Papanicolaou presents a very warm representation of Will, Beauty’s brother, working the audience nicely to be a successful “audience friend” character. Kirsty Anne-Shaw, as Beauty, has a fantastic sincerity to her performance, as does Isabelle Hetherington as Titania, whose singing voice is powerfully notable and who works wonderfully with the endearing young performers she appears with.
As Ulrika, Harriet Miller creates a convincing pantoesque villain and Craig Golding, as the Beast/Prince Robert, gives a truly convincing performance - particularly in the classic transformation scene. Liz Garland is especially noteworthy as Madame Crummies, with a rich characterisation and great attention to detail on the inflection of her lines to make the most of them and draw the laughs.
One of the most pleasing elements in the production comes from the brilliantly slick choreography from Hayley Jane-Simmons, blending well-staged energetic performances from the professional dancers (whom often form part of the character ensemble with lines and jokes to tell) alongside the heart-warming young dancers from the local Giselle School of Dance.
But it’s all trumped by the physically gifted and exceptionally characterised performance of Timothy Lucas as villain Frederick. It’s brilliantly conceived, well executed and wonderfully funny. His performance really is truly blessed with theatrical magic.
Beauty and the Beast is on at the New Theatre Royal until 31st December 2017. Tickets available at the Box Office or online.