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Beauty and the Beast (Susan Elkin reviews)

Beauty and the Beast
Alan P Frayn
performance date: 17 Feb 2017
venue: Brook Theatre Chatham

I’ve seen most of GDS Productions’s shows in recent years. It’s an interesting, enterprising company and there’s always something to commend. This time – in the annual February half-term pantomime – I was struck particularly by the quality of several beautifully choreographed (by Emma Hodge and Bethany Kimber) and sung ensemble scenes. A gold star too to whoever rehearsed the six very young children who formed the junior chorus. They are more or less together and evidently well drilled. Moreover, any scene which gets audience children literally and spontaneously dancing in the aisles – as happened at the Friday matinee I attended – is clearly getting it right. The finale to Act 1 – A Beastly Banquet, which owes a big debt to Disney is great fun, for example.

Amy Allen gives us a feisty Belle, a science student who is not going to be walked over. When she finally capitulates it’s on her own terms and feminists can rest easy. She’s a fine singer too and it would have been good to have heard more of that. There were other odd things in this show, too. Jeni Boyns and Marianna Allen have plenty of stage presence as Belle’s outrageously awful sisters but they should also have had at least one song together. And Jessica Amey is lightweight as Flora (the good fairy) but sings really well. Why wasn’t she given lines to sing instead of speaking them? Lee Round works hard as Dame Fifi but is far too refined and I think James Alexander Stacey must be struggling with the Beast headdress because his singing is poor (out of tune and strained) when he’s wearing it but excellent once he’s morphed into the Prince.

There’s a lovely performance from Nicole Gillespie as Jacques and “If I were not upon the stage ” which she leads at the end of the show is the slickest and best thing in the entire two hours. The timing and silliness is masterly and, suddenly, the show which has hitherto been dogged by too much wooden acting and thrown away punchlines – suddenly relaxes and achieves lift off.

GDS Productions is supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities with this production. One of the performances was a fund raising gala and the company has been fundraising during rehearsals. RMHC has 14 houses across the UK in which it provides temporary accommodation for families with children in hospital far from home. Well done GDS Productions. Something else to commend.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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