Beauty and The Beast

Beauty and the Beast Production Image (8) - credit David Munn Photography

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Regal Entertainments and St Helens Theatre Royal’s usual run of family-favourite pantomimes throughout the year came to an abrupt halt when the Coronavirus pandemic closed theatres across the country back in March. The creatives rallied together producing an innovative virtual show: Rapunzel: The Lockdown Panto, back in April and now through lots of hard work, commitment and Covid compliance bring Beauty and The Beast to the stage, opening the doors of the Theatre Royal to audiences once again.

Directed by Chantelle Nolan and written by Liam Mellor, Beauty and The Beast tells the famous fairy-tale of a prince cursed to live as a monstrous beast, the only thing that can break the curse is…of course true-loves kiss! But just how does a furry monster find true love, especially when we are all social distancing!

Beauty and the Beast Production Image (1) - credit David Munn Photography

Regal Entertainments have well and truly pulled out all the stops to ensure their first live show in a long 9 months is an unforgettable one. The script is positively jam-packed with Covid gags with Boris Johnson getting a hilarious ribbing while Joe Wicks, Chris Witty and even the track and trace app all feature.

French Frank and Pretty Polly played by Scott Gallagher and Jamie Greer respectively are a perfect comedy duo, guiding us through the ups and downs of life in the village of Petit Pois as they try and save their master (Andrew Geater) from a hairy ending. They bounce off each other brilliantly, the quick-witted pair are clearly having a ball being back in front of an audience, throwing themselves full throttle into the slapstick silliness as well as offering plenty of cheeky gags for the grownups.

Beauty and the Beast Production Image (5) - credit David Munn Photography

Timothy Lucas as a scene stealing Gaston is an absolute joy, self-obsessed, pumped up and completely outrageous he has the audience in the palm of his hand from his first swivel-hipped lunge onto stage. His mother the Cruella De Ville-esque Madam Botox (Abigail Middleton) is as detestable as her air-head son, the two make a perfectly ghastly pair of pantomime villains.

Olivia Sloyan makes for a superbly sassy Belle while Andrew Geater’s charm shines through as the reclusive Beast. Jenna Sian O’Hara acts as narrator in her role as Fairy Rose, her no nonsense Northern attitude sees her giving as good as she gets in an unforgettable 12 Days of Covid which leaves the audience roaring with laughter (behind our Covid compliant masks of course).

Beauty and the Beast Production Image (2) - credit David Munn Photography

Choreographer Nazene Langfield has created some beautiful numbers for the talented senior dancers, sadly no juvenile dancers this year due to Covid restrictions but the seniors do a wonderful job of filling the stage adding real depth to the musical numbers. There’s some great song choices this year, many with a Covid twist which are an absolute stroke of genius and while the audience can’t participate in the usual way a TikTok dance off fills the gaps perfectly.

By the time of the final transformation scene, you’ll be wishing you could stay in your seat and watch it all over again. This hilarious production at a time when theatre making is more challenging than ever before is an utter treat, just what’s needed to lift spirits, create magical memories and remind us all just how precious the arts are. Kudos to all at St Helen’s Theatre Royal for creating a perfectly safe environment for families to enjoy some much-needed escapism.

Beauty and the Beast Production Image (9) - credit David Munn Photography

Beauty and the Beast is an absolute Christmas cracker, in the words of my Godson Freddie “The best one we’ve ever seen”

Beauty and The Beast is on at St Helens Theatre Royal until Sunday 3rd Jan tickets from £16 available via Ticketsolve – St Helens Theatre Royal

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Micheal Rosen’s 1989 picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is rightly considered a children’s classic – it’s been a bedroom staple in our house since my son was a baby.

It has all the necessary ingredients – beautiful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, fun repetitive rhyming language to read-along to, and not forgetting a dash of mild peril!

So how would it translate to the stage? Thankfully, brilliantly (phew!). This is up there with the best kids book-to-stage adaptations we’ve seen (an opinion confirmed by my 4-year-old, who said it was “as good as What The Ladybird Heard” – which is the highest of praise, believe me!)

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The staging is ingenious. Set against a backdrop of am evocative watercolour paint splodge, the much-loved elements of the book (Mud! Grass! Snow storm!) are brought to life by the cast using stuff you’d find at home – washing up bowls, bed sheets, paint and paper. Using familiar elements of messy play that the little ones in the audience will recognise, and indeed be able to recreate at home was very clever, and incredibly effective.

The brilliant cast of four (well technically 5 if we include the titular bear!) show fantastic energy throughout, individually and as an ensemble.

Tim Hibberd’s sardonic dad has just the right amount of wry humour to get the adults in the audience on board, but with boundless energy and warmth to get the kids on side too.

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Hannah Donelon and Artie Godden as the young girl and boy display great comic timing and physical comedy and Benjamin Hills as the family dog is great fun! He only says the occasion,y ‘woof’ but plays a multitude of instruments, bringing Benji Bower’s score to life.

My little co-reviewer’s favourite bit? Obviously the obligatory waterpistols that brought the splashy-sploshy river to life and to the audience! But he laughed out loud throughout, clutched my arm whenever he heard the bear ‘roar’ and said it was a “nice” surprise when the eventually-found bear didn’t turn out to be scary AT ALL.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, until August 31st and is the perfect summer holiday treat for your little bear cub. (And if you want to prolong the fun there’s an accompanying bear hunt themed trail across the Lowry and the neighbouring outlet mall – collect a fun sheet from the customer service desk in the mall).

In a word, roarsome!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on at The Lowry until Saturday 31st August, tickets available here.