Beauty and the Beast
This year’s Billingham Forum panto is Beauty and the Beast, written & directed by Liam Mellor (who also plays Loopy Louie). Liam is possibly the hardest working person in panto with more years’ credits to his name than his tender age would suggest possible. His formula for great panto is to ensure the audience get what they expect and boy he doesn’t let anyone down; fantastic dancing, tick, great choice of songs, tick, villainous anti-hero, tick, daft sidekicks, tick, larger than life dame, tick and a feel good show that has everyone laughing and smiling, double tick.
As with most pantomimes, the story is almost incidental to the show. Belle (local lass and Billingham panto stalwart Victoria Holtom) is the wholesome village girl looking for her true love while supporting her inventor father Professor Crackpot (Shameless’s Warren Donnelly). Villagers Loopy Louie (aforementioned Mellor) and his wife Madam Le Bonbon (Robert Squire sporting the best set of legs in dame land) are servants to the virtuous Prince Tristan of Teesside (Tristan Gemmill, one time possible James Bond and much loved Robert Preston of Coronation Street). Sadly, once Prince Tristan makes his affections for Belle known, our villain Gaston (Ben Ryan-Davies – The Monuments Men, Waterloo Road) has him cursed and turned into The Beast, to be freed only by True Love’s First Kiss. Ryan-Davies is a regular at Billingham panto but this is his first foray as the villain, clearly the audience took a while to accept him as being the bad guy, in fact it was not until half way through the 2nd act that he elicited his first set of boos.
Guided throughout by The Enchantress of the Rose (songbird Katy Allen) we follow Belle as she befriends the Beast and he attempts to convince her he is not all that bad. But as I said, the story plays second fiddle to the real fun – a traditional modern day pantomime (is that not an oxymoron?). There is ample use of Kidz Bop tunes, instantly recognised by the younger members of the audience, we have plenty of call and response (Oh yes we do!) and some sidesplittingly funny routines, especially the now much anticipated 12 Days of Christmas (which takes audience participation to a whole new level). Comedy duo Luke & Elliott (as Philippe and Philippe) ensure the silliness is never far away and, judging by the howls of laughter coming from all around, their timing was spot on.
Billingham Forum is a wonderful venue for a family panto; very welcoming, a great auditorium and ideal for everyone, perfect for this fun packed pantomime which has already been hailed as “the best seen in 25 years”.