Beauty and the Beast, Bath Theatre Royal

PANTOMIME should be all about enchantment and lau­ghter, and you won’t find a more magical or funny example than Jon Monie’s version of Beauty and the Beast, at Bath until 12th January.

The script was first performed last season in Black­pool, where it won a new panto of the year award. Now, back on Jon’s home stage and performed not only by the writer but his regular damely companion, Nick Wilton, it’s easy to see how it deserves its success.

The story is familiar. An arrogant young man taunts an old woman, but she’s not all she seems and casts a spell to turn him physically into the beast his behaviour proves. Only if someone loves him for himself, regardless of his frighteningly hideous exterior, can he escape.

The French fairy story has been a favourite since it first appeared in 1740, written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Ville­neuve, and even survived Disneyfic­ation on film in 2017.

Jon Monie is famous with Bath audiences for his rubber-faced comedy, spontaneous repartee and general loveableness. Now he’s harnessed all his experience and created a wonderfully funny, touching version of a favourite panto story, with lots of new jokes.

Who’d have thought it would fall to Bath Theatre Royal to provide the best Brexit satire – it can only be a matter of time before someone spots Nick Wilton as the perfect Boris impersonator.

The cross-channel jokes are mostly at the expense of pree­ning baddie Hugo Pomp­i­dou (Ben Harlow), who created the role in the Blackpool season. Another original cast member is Marcus Knibbs as the spirited Clement, Belle’s father.

The beauty of the title is Belle du Jour, the only woman in the village of Camembert to refuse Hugo, and the only one to see bey­ond Mr Beast’s unattractive carapace.

Wendi Peters is a belting Fairy Bon Bon, with Shaun Dalton capturing the Beast’s intrinsic humanity under his unruly body fur. And what a great singing voice he has – really heard to full advantage in the new lyrics of the rousing Les Mis tribute that ends the first half.

Nick Wilton’s Polly la Plonk is as always a favourite with the audience, this year coupling some brilliant comedy with heartfelt devotion to Mr Beast. Jon Monie is, of course her “son”, Louis la Plonk. They have developed one of very best double acts around, and every year it just gets better.

With spectacular sets and costumes, adventurous dancing and fighting, perfectly timed comedy and characters that everyone loves (or loves to hate) this really is a pantomime for all the family.  It has the routine you are waiting for, but lots more too, with topical and local jokes, fast action and an extra showering of magic dust.

And it’s performed in one of the country’s prettiest theatres, all dolled up in its Christmas splendour.


Photographs by Freia Turland

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