The Liverpool Everyman Theatre Rock n Roll Panto:Beauty and the Beast

Posted on 4 December 2016
By Miranda Green
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To paraphrase Dolly Parton, “It takes a lot of talent to look this tasteless.” The Everyman’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Beauty and the Beast, playing until 21st January, is the Dolly of all pantomimes.

Which is to say: full of belting tunes, buxom with brilliance and overall utterly fabulous. And, of course, all done in the worst possible taste.

You know the story. Well, actually, you don’t because it bears little resemblance to either the Disney version or the original French tale, La Belle et La Bete. No matter, because the Everyman panto follows a tried and tested formula of diva-esque villainesses, dewy damsels and outrageous dames.

Be-tutu-ed fairies add some sparkle and of course there is the dashing prince and hapless father. There may even be a pretence at a moral about appearances being deceptive but, frankly, the plot is merely a framework for scriptwriters Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton to hang the production’s rip-roaring rock and roll performances, double entendres and fart jokes upon.

This year’s production is no different, and sees the return of stalwart Francis Tucker, who has played the Dame for 11 years running. As in last year’s Rapunzel, he is teamed with Adam Keast as the pair of them caper through the dual, and somewhat Shakespearian, roles of identical twins Belle/Polly and Sebastian/Wilbur. Stephanie Hockley shines as Rose White and Lucy Thatcher positively glows radioactively as the evil Narcissus McSissus.

New boy Raj Paul alternately strides the stage and slinks in the shadows as the beastly King Tyrell. And Tom Connor is fabulous as the foolish and foppish Sir Cyril from the Wirral, in what must surely be a regional joke.

In the belief that more is, in fact, more, the production leaves nothing out – there are smoky descents into the bowels of the stage, soaring flights from the ceiling, obligatory audience participation (watch out if you’re male and have booked a seat near the stage) and the inevitable and welcome water pistol action. But on top of this, the show has attempted to shoe-horn a million and one cultural references into a short space.

Hence Britney abuts Barcarolle, Kate Bush and Queen cosy up and Mirror Antoinette is the reincarnation of Gavin and Stacey’s Nessa singing “I feel Pretty” from West Side Story. And who else could juxtapose Dirty Dancing, complete with aerial action, with a slo-mo fight scene accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem?

With all these bells and whistles, and when you’re laughing so loudly (and what is not funny about a grown man dressed as Dolly Parton telling us that sometimes it’s hard to be a woman?), it’s easy to overlook how outrageously talented the cast are. They are the original all-singing, all-dancing troupe, with the addition that most of them are in fact also all-instrument playing too. All the music is live and performed mostly entirely by the actors.

But at the eye of this sensational storm, there is one moment of calm where Stephanie Hockley sings Dusty Springfield’s I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten with such pathos that we are reminded just how accomplished these folk are.

Yes, there was some corpsing and, yes, sometimes the sound effects were out of synch but it all just adds to the comedy. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure that the latter wasn’t deliberate. So when we saw Adam Keast by the stage door, who smiled anxiously and told us that the cast are “getting there,” we were genuinely surprised. All I can say to those of you who haven’t booked tickets yet is, if this is only the journey, get on board because it’s one hell of a ride!

Beauty and the Beast: Son of a Creature Man
The Liverpool Everyman
November 26 – January 20 2016
Authors: Mark Chatterton & Sarah A Nixon
Cast Includes: Francis Tucker, Stephanie Hockley, Adam Keast, Emmt Stonelake, Tom Connor, Lucy Thatcher
PR Rating: ***** Rockin’ & Rollin’