Stage Wednesday, December 2nd

Review: Beauty and the Beast, Courtyard, Hereford

To be honest, the words “interactive theatre” send a shiver down my spine.

You people who sit in the front row at live comedy shows, you and I live on different planes.

The fourth wall is not to be trifled with! But when it comes to panto… well, rules are made to be broken. At the Courtyard in Hereford last night, I was on my feet singing, cheering and booing with the best of them. Pantolaunch resize

Peppered with pop culture and packed with girl power, Beauty and the Beast is panto with punch. The Beast isn’t some Disney-fied dreamboat (brilliant costume, I won’t ruin the surprise) and when we first see Bebe, the Beauty of this tale, she’s in the midst of a rugby scrum.

The story starts with Bebe’s father going in search of a new fortune after the family land on hard times. Instead, he stumbles on a castle – and straight into trouble.

To save her dad Beauty goes to live with the Beast who, as we all know, is a handsome prince cursed by an evil witch.

While Bebe gets disappointingly less feisty as the show goes on (maybe falling in love does that to you), Beth Dillon (Bebe) and Ben Astle (Beast) are well suited as our star-crossed lovers. There’s a scene in Act II that could have turned into a cringe-worthy pity party for our Beastly prince, but Dillion’s authenticity saves it – with a little help from a stonkingly good disco dance routine. Astle’s mannerisms and movements speak volumes, and his singing voice is velvet. 

In fact, the entire cast knock it out of the park – a few microphone crackles didn’t do any damage. 

Maldeleine MacMahon, back for her fifth panto at the Courtyard, sizzles as bad girl Berontha. Her costume's part-Maleficent, part Dr Frank-N-Furter and her evil cackle isn't too hammy.

As director Estelle Van Warmelo explains in the show programme, “Doing things differently has been one of the secrets to the success of the Courtyard’s history of in-house work. Panto is no exception to that.”

You’ve got all the ingredients – slapstick, free sweets, a baddie seeking revenge and a dame with her suspenders on show. But nothing is dumbed down. In fact, some of the jokes might actually go over younger children’s heads. 

Quick-witted and clearly having an absolute hoot on stage, Jason Marc-Williams and Alistair Barron are superb as Dame Buffy Duster and Buster, the mother and son who look after Bebe inside the Beast’s castle.

In panto, when your comedy duo break character because they are laughing so hard they can’t get the next line out it’s a recipe for success.

The show moves fast and the musical numbers get you humming along. All in all, job well done – if you think panto is sickly sweet, think again. Better yet, get yourself a ticket to see Beauty and the Beast. 

Beauty and the Beast runs at the Courtyard until January 9. This year's show is sponsored by Cargill.

Next year’s panto at the Courtyard will be Aladdin. 

Enter our competition to win four tickets to the show

Madeleine MacMahon as Berontha.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say hello@herefordshirelive.co.uk