Having squirmed through the Aladdin that the Chipping Norton professionals dished up at Christmas, what a veritable feast was served to us at the Institute this weekend in Adderbury Theatre Workshop’s panto Betty and The Beast
This show was original, creative, engaging, very funny, emotional, fast moving, nonsense – in fact, it had the lot!
The audience immediately felt included when all 27 players lined the hall singing ‘Hold up the Light’ – what a brilliant start!
Then over to our narrators Ant and Duck (Sam Holmes and James Heath) whose droll and acerbic delivery kept us amused us through the whole evening
Gary Leonardi’s script was traditional enough – wicked prince cursed as a beast, etc – but spiced with so much originality and odd characters that you never knew what was coming next. The Prince (splendidly played by Paul Fox – and he can sing!) was cursed as a beast along with his household, who were turned into various objects
Elsewhere in the little French village of Weston super Merde (get it?) the audience had more villains to boo – local Lothario Gaston (a very nasty Ashley Dwyer – boo) his servant Pot Pourri (Becky Cheesman) and their camp French poodle (Gary Leonardi relatively subdued this time – I think he left it to the others). Gaston was chasing the hand of the lovely Betty (Rose Belcher) who we found seeing off her son Englebert (Amelia Haycocks) to find his fortune selling his invention which could tell you what women were really thinking ( a few good lines here) He was set upon by hungry wolves (Hannah Marles, Alison Heath and Hannah Denness – although Hannah’s was topically vegan!) and sought refuge in the Prince’s castle, where he was duly locked up amongst the odd objects
The Prince’s cursed household provided Gill Osborne and her costume team a golden opportunity to show off their skills. We had a very French lamp (Linda Leslie) a very English clock (Alfie Blackwell) a huge teapot and cup (Mel Cox and Joe Lamb) and a lovely feather duster (Alison Heath) – and the most fantastic creation had recent newcomer Simon Hook (excellent!) as a lavatory which regularly sprayed its contents over the audience
The French accents were rather varied, with Linda Leslie upstaged (for once) by Anna Savings as the gendarme – Hello Hello had nothing on this!
Where was I? – oh yes (keep up) – so Betty denounces Gaston (boo) again and sets off to rescue Englebert on Phillipe the ageing nag, brilliantly played by Trisha Bellinger with her very convincing Brummy accent and various equine ailments. Betty in turn is then locked up by the Beast, and sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ (Les Miserables) – not a dry eye in the house. In Rose Belcher ATW has indeed found its new songbird
Further creative characters appear – the perennial Wendy Gardner (love her) turns up as a mad vicar to exorcise Gaston (boo) of his evil so he can marry Betty. He then plans to throw Englebert – now back home – into a lunatic asylum run by Mr Ree (Simon Hook again) and his wife Di Ree (Wendy Gardner again suffering from Yorkshire Tourette’s) and daughter Lavat Ree (get it?) (a lovely cameo from Macie Cheesman)
Meanwhile Beast mellows, sings lovely songs with Betty as she warms to him – more coo’s and arrr’s from the audience. Then Gaston (boo) arrives, Betty is slain, fairy brings her back to life and lifts the Beast’s curse, etc – and all is well
What a show! So many star turns, not least amongst the youngsters, some of them making their stage debuts so confidently. There was a lovely acknowledgement of ATW continuity with the three youngest playing Mrs Scarff, Mrs Lee and Mrs Dwyer. But for me the star performer was Alfie Blackwell, cursed into being a very pucker English clock, who broke into a spontaneous disco dance during one of the songs, then brought the house down with a splendid Freddie Mercury impersonation
As well as those fabulous costumes, behind the scenes was as slick as ever, and Tom Shepstone’s excellent band up on the balcony helped create a great atmosphere
So, in summary, a great night. Tradition with loads of innovation. Plenty of cock-ups (we love them) funny without being crude, and a very involved audience – who’d have thought of a filler with the whole audience standing up singing ‘I’m a little teapot’?
Congratulations to director Jamie Cox for moulding such a marvellous team – Adderbury should be very proud of them
Was it the best ever? – oh yes it was!