REVIEW: Honest pantomime has plenty of charm with some scary and dramatic touches

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast
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Beauty and The Beast by Burgess Hill Theatre Club, Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill

What would rockers Steppenwolf have made of it?

Pantomime characters frolicked energetically across a stage to their heavy metal thunder Sixties revolt anthem Born to be Wild.

Thankfully there was a loose connection to the plot (that’s all you need in panto) as the masked creatures added a scary touch for the kids to Burgess Hill Theatre Club’s entertaining Beauty and the Beast at the Martlets Hall.

As if the menacing green-clad Mary Ward wasn’t enough of a frightener as Weed, a woman of enough evil intention to draw the desired hisses and boos from the audience.

Thank heavens, then, for the warmth of Emma Fitzpatrick, superbly milking 100 percent sweetness and light from a small part as the Sunflower and popping up and down with charm and some delightful facial expressions. Small was beautiful.

Charm was rather at a premium with the sartorially deficient sisters Daffodilly and Marigold, enthusiastically played by Peter Gooding and David Plank, with a few good ad libs (at least I think they were) thrown in.

But real feminine charm oozed from the pores of Debbie McLean as an excellent Beauty, and despite her male role as the Prince there was no denying the leggy looks of confident Sophie Jones.

A slow first half lacking enough slaps of slapstick gave way to a much pacier second half, with the Spanish dance theme that gave the youngsters from the Drusilla Duffill Theatre School the chance to show their paces maintained in colourful style.

Matt Roberts, who always gives full value, pulled himself together as Zip from some dodgy jokes and had the audience on his side from his first entrance.

One thing you get with modern local pantomimes is good use of technical aids. So Des Fitzpatrick’s outstanding, and even touching, turn as the Beast (the transformation from Prince dramatically and well handled) was greatly enhanced by the use of distorted voice, though the audience needed to concentrate harder on his slightly mangled lines.

I gather audience figures are likely to be down when the sums are done. I do hope for the sake for honest and whole-hearted productions like this that this is a temporary trend because of the continued economic problems many people are still experiencing.

Words and picture by Phil Dennett