It’s that time of year when the frost settles on the ground, the cheesy Christmas tunes begin their heavy rotation on the radio and Christmas panto comes back to the Riverfront.
Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it most certainly is.
This time, it’s Beauty and the Beast for writer and director Richard Gauntlett who admits in the programme notes that it’s the first time in a quarter of a century of making Christmas pantomimes that he has tried his pen at it. If you were worried at his inexperience at adapting this familiar tale in the unique and appealing style of a Riverfront Theatre panto, you needn’t have bothered – it’s a big hit.
Right from the opening scene, the quality of the production is evident in the set design, script and opening musical number which sets excellent choreography to The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun which juxtaposed nicely with the frosty evening.
As expected, familiar favourite Richard Elis as Mickey Muggins gets the biggest laughs of the night. One highly comedic scene in particular stands out when he uses a selection of songs to frustrate one of the evening’s baddies – Mayor Murgatroyd who was played superbly by Aled Pugh of Stella fame. It is credit to Elis that after all these years of performing during the festive period at the Riverside, he still plays each role with the zeal of a someone in their first panto.
Not far behind Elis in the comedy stakes is Newportonian Gareth Tempest who plays Dame Muggins, mother of Mickey Muggins. The pair riff off each other throughout the show whether it is in the script or in some impromptu mickey-taking when things do not go exactly to script.
Special mention must also go to fellow Newportonian Elian West who plays the leading female role of Rose Hip. She brings some serious vocal heft to proceedings with some outstanding power ballads that bring the house down. Phoebe Holmes as Hecate – the evil witch who casts a spell on Prince Hilarion to turn him into ‘The Beast’ at the start of the show – also revels in playing the villainess of the panto. Her frequent and hearty “Shurrrups!” to the packed house never failed to illicit a deafening round of booing.
At the conclusion of the show, the cast announce that they will be back the same time next year with Dick Whittington. After the quality of the latest show – which still has January 6th to run till – you would not bet against it.