The traditional French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast has taken many different forms over the years, with numerous stage, film and television versions. You can even see it on ice this month at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion, but the Epstein have given it another twist and are presenting it as an Easter pantomime. The result is a riotous family show, with jokes about Jeremy Clarkson and Everton’s troubled season for the adults and plenty of knockabout comedy and heartwarming romance for the kids.
The comic mayhem is presided over by Michael Chapman, the mastermind behind most of the Epstein’s pantos as director, writer and performer. Here he’s Dolly, housekeeper to the Beast (Dan Hagan), who despite his gruesome appearance is of course in reality a handsome prince with a heart of gold. Chapman’s performance is a real tour de force, his irreverent quips and caustic Cockney delivery raising expectations of laughter every time he appears on stage.
There’s another fine performance from Ritchie Neville (of the 90s boyband 5ive), who as Anton entertainingly sends himself up by playing the character as a would-be Fonze, all self-satisfied macho posturing and laughably lame chat-up lines. He can’t understand his failure to impress Belle, the heroine who’s played by Alison Crawford – a memorable princess in the Epstein’s Jack and the Beanstalk at Christmas, and equally delightful here. Two young locally-based actors are also very impressive. Shannon Power is a commandingly malevolent Countess (with an excellent demonic laugh), and also gives a storming rendition of I Put A Spell On You. Joe McEvoy won the hearts of many in the audience as Loopy Louis, the village idiot (a job he admits doesn’t generally pay very well – ‘unless you work for the council’). Tom Burroughs, who plays Belle’s bumbling but well-meaning father, is by contrast a very experienced actor and shows this with a consummate performance.
The youngsters from local dance schools make a commendable contribution to the visual spectacle, and the songs include one or two of 5ive’s hits plus guaranteed showstopping classics such as Nine To Five and I’m Going To Make You Love Me.
With Michael Chapman at the helm the Epstein really has the pantomime genre cracked, and Beauty and the Beast is another sure-fire, uproariously entertaining hit.
Beauty and the Beast continues at the Epstein Theatre until 12 April 2015. For more details, click HERE.