With COVID having affected pretty much everyone and everything possible over the last 18 months, it is wonderful to see theatre’s such as Liverpool’s Epstein reopen its doors to do exactly what it does best: Entertain!
This year, the Epstein pantomime is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ starring TV’s Ben Richards as ‘Gaston’. It has to be said in the first instance, that unfortunately, the wicked COVID spell was not far away and tonight, the leading man was replaced by Tom Fothergill, who was one of the cast’s senior dancers but stepped up to play ‘Gaston’ at the last minute. The same goes for the ‘Fairy’ who was replaced by the cast’s choreographer Nazene Langfield, with only around an hour and a half to go! First and foremost, congratulations to this team of experts for pulling off these challenging changes and clearly supporting one another to deliver a polished and skilled performance tonight. This is true professionalism at its best- the show must go on!
Having said that, I feel first half perhaps was affected by these changes and as things felt quite disjointed. The storyline is quite weak and perhaps the script did not provide enough scope for the audience to really get on board. This production team have kept things quite traditional, and I did wonder whether this was bordering on boring and a little old fashioned. Some of the jokes had a few too many sexual references which I am not sure were necessary.
Luckily, there were a few lively characters to keep the boys and girls amused including Lewis Devine who played ‘French Frank’ and Jamie Greer who played ‘Potty Polly’. Towards the end of the first half, Madame Botox, played by James Lacey (who was much too fabulous to be scary!) came to the fore with a spellbinding, impressive solo that made me think ‘Finally, let’s get the party started!’
Fortunately, the atmosphere lifted in the second half, and we saw much more creativity and originality with the introduction of ‘TikTok’s’ and some more modern excitement. There was excellence in the scenery and costumes as well as the lighting and sound which were used cleverly to enhance the whole performance. The show was expertly choreographed and executed by a team of talented dancers (Lucy Edwards, Summer Tansley, Emily Dunbar, Molly Franklin) and of course Lauren McCrory who played the sweet, angelic Belle.
There were some excellent musical choices – a mash-up between Britney, Lady Gaga and Eurythmics is always welcome, as well as Belle and Beast’s (Benjamin Keith) beautiful love duet which did strike the right chord in the second half. However, I think there was still room for more great sing-along’s and memorable big numbers in this show.
Ultimately Regal Entertainment Ltd played a blinder when you consider that they lost two of their leading cast members’ just hours before curtain up. Credit must be given to each and every one of the cast and crew for coming together under this immense pressure. They made it look very easy to deliver a night of fun and laughter. Beauty and the Beast continues at The Epstein Theatre until Sunday the 9th of January, for ticket information, please visit https://www.epsteintheatre.co.uk/events/beauty-and-the-beast-2/ check venue website and social media for daily performance status.
Reviewer: Bláthíne Maguire
Reviewed: 20th December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★