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REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
IKP Productions, Prestbury Scout Hut
Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Rating: ★★

The tale of Beauty and the Beast isn’t quite “as old as time” (sorry, Disney), but it can be traced back almost two thousand years, to the Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche (© Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis).  Our modern version comes from the 18th-century French fairy-tale, La Belle et La Bête.  However – unlike IKP Productions’ uproarious open-air touring show – neither Cupid nor La Belle contained monkey butlers, custard-pie gags, or reminders to have a wee during the interval.
Beauty and the Beast is fast-paced, knockabout fun for all the family: at least three generations enjoyed the performance I attended at Prestbury Scout Hut.  In IKP’s stripped-down production, five versatile actors, a handful of props, some ingenious costumes, a couple of scenery blocks and a strip-curtained gazebo were all that was needed to bring joy and laughter into a damp garden.

Directed by Greg Banks, and written by IKP’s founder Joe Hackett (who is also one of the performers), this summer panto hits the ground running with an attention-grabbing opening song, composed by Lucas Bailey and accompanied on guitar by Murray Andrews (who also plays Beauty’s father, among other roles).  Other musical highlights include Spooky Castle, which distances this production from the animated version: “Not a Disneyland castle / It’s a spooky castle”.  In true panto style, the show is chock-full of slapstick gags, stock characters, terrible puns, anachronistic humour (including references to Hogwarts and the pandemic) and audience participation: “Water the wose!”, we all scweamed.  You had to be there.

The show’s motor is the cast’s boundless energy and youthful resilience: at curtain-up, some of the actors were still damp from the pre-performance thunderstorm.  The eponymous Beauty was played by Kirsten Boardman with grace and charm, while Nate Harter interpreted the Beast as a clenched, self-loathing creature and – spoiler alert! – his princely alter ego as a handsome matinée idol.  He even kept his poise when a Cockapoo in the audience took a strong dislike to the Beast.  The fifth cast member, Ollie Bradstock, was tremendously versatile in roles ranging from Neal the Pirate to the Good Fairy.

Audience members with hearing difficulties will be pleased to learn that the performers were easily audible: no mean feat in an outdoor setting, where there are no walls or ceilings from which the actors can ‘bounce’ their voices.  This show has something for everyone: youngsters loved the broad, warm-hearted humour, while older audience-members were entertained by an abundance of more sophisticated comedy.  Given the bladder-friendly running-time of less than two hours, you might not even need an interval wee.

Beauty and the Beast plays at various venues until 5 September 2021.  You’d better get your skates on, as some performances are already sold out.

Reviewer: Paul Sharples
Explore Gloucestershire
29 July 2021 

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