You can’t deny there is an air of sophistication often attached to the Playhouse.
But if you refuse to call the pantomime sophisticated, this production is certainly traditional. There are no cringe-inducing appearances from burnt out Emmerdale stars for a start.
This show manages to achieve a quality other big city pantos have lost: genuine family fun, without segregating the jokes for children and adults in the audience. It’s timeless. And ageless! The storyline, the grotesque dame, audience participation, actors’ ad-lib, it’s all there and perfectly executed. And surely that’s the point of the panto, to meet our expectations? Otherwise how would we know when to shout “Eee’s behind you!”?
It’s director/writer Kenneth Alan Taylor’s 26th consecutive pantomime at the playhouse, and one certainly gets the feeling he could do the 27th with his eyes closed.
The story is Beauty and the Beast, complete with two ugly sisters reminiscent of quaint Lancastrian women in Wallace and Gromit, with Playhouse regular John Elkington brilliantly suited as ‘The Dame’.
In a purely technical sense, I guarantee this production is a visual pleasure for theatre design students (call it ‘research’ if you need an excuse!). The set is magical. It combines the traditional home-made feel of painted cardboard settings with impressive and technically accomplished built-up sets, such as the grand interior of the Beast’s house. There is even a scene presented behind a screen using beautifully choreographed shadow puppetry.
The costumes are also gorgeous. These are not the usual circus performer ensembles or fancy dress shop panto outfits you may be used to seeing. These are couture fashions!
On music, there are a few love songs and home grown solos mainly sung by the protagonist, Belle. But for the most, expect a bigger helping of songs designed for the audience sing-a-long to. ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘The Teddybears Picnic’ and even a snippet Pussycat Dolls seemed to get the crowds chanting along.
And if it all sounds a bit full-on, there are occasional sedate interludes of dancing tea cups and various crockery, played out like a lullaby with live music to match. And amongst all that, what could be more traditional than buying an ice-cream pot from the vendor during interval?
Photo: Robert Day