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Review: Beauty & The Beast at the Black-E ***1/2

Playing to a panto audience in the round, and fielding one of the largest casts this Christmas?

Hats off to Drops of Light CIC, the team behind this inventive production of Beauty & The Beast at the Black-E, who certainly don’t lack ambition.

Their nucleus of professional actors – including Royal Court regulars Alan Stocks and Helen Carter – are augmented by a large company of young dancers, and older members of the community, who appear as villagers and help populate and animate the large performance space.

Other community volunteers have been involved in the creative and technical process.

And together they’ve produced a rather charming evening’s festival entertainment.

It’s a huge undertaking, mirrored by the work of Jay Lay Designs who have gone to town on the costumes, particularly the impressive changes for Dame Dolly (Jamie Greer) and Basic Bertie (Adam McCoy) who transform each time a petal falls from the rose – in to clocks, teapots, a vending machine, table, candle, lamp, fruit bowl and even a Superlambanana.

Greer and McCoy are a double act with potential. And they could afford to go bigger and louder and more outrageous on such a large stage where it’s important to make every section of the audience feel involved with the action.

Tori Hargreaves as Beauty and Helen Carter as Fairy Rose Lane - photos by Dave Munn

There is a creative use of the space, and a commitment to performing to every side of the square, but currently the show doesn’t quite feel like it’s hit its perfect groove. Some of the action needs more flow, and sometimes it’s hard to hear what’s going on in other corners of the room – or over the recorded music.

Saying that, there’s a lot to like. Jessica Lea’s script is sharp, and some of the Scouse-ified character names are inspired, not least Garston, who I assume must be Gaston’s scally sibling!

Ciaran Kellgren plays him at full revolting throttle complete with Jagger strutting and a perfectly judged lack of self-awareness. He’s gloriously ghastly.

Meanwhile Tori Hargreaves is a no-nonsense heroine as Belle Vale, calm in the face of an idiot parent (Alan Stocks’ Egbert the inventor. Egbert Vale – geddit?) and the provocation of a pair of Scouse princess sisters borrowed, evidently, from Cinderella.

There’s a lovely homely feel in the theatre space, with youngsters allowed to run around the stage area in the interval, and the entrance through the Black-E’s amazing rotunda, lit with fairy lights, gives a sense of occasion.

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