A visit to the pantomime and Christmas are inseparable in my household and a trip to the Theatre Royal on press night, with my children sporting festive jumpers, was much anticipated — and made all the more seasonal thanks to the heavy snowfall in the hours before.
But what followed on stage was enough to thaw any panto sceptic.
The headliners for this year’s production were Nottingham-born former Coronation Street and Emmerdale actress Sherrie Hewson as Mrs Potts-Temple-Savage and, as the Beast, Ben Richards, who has appeared on TV in Holby City and The Bill.
However, comedy is always king at panto time and the stars of the show in this fledgling run were Ben Nickless is Benny Blumenthal and Andrew Ryan, who played larger-than-life Dame Betty Blumenthal.
The duo were the glue that held the show together, and with fabulous comedy timing, superb audience interaction, a boundless energy and tip-top chemistry, they were outstanding.
Nickless, appearing in the Theatre Royal panto for a fourth time, had the audience in fits of laughter with his impersonations and gags — many of which were on the rude side and perfectly pitched for the adults in the audience.
A highlight was the use of a trolley of oversized DVDs, the titles of which were used to fill in the blanks of a conversation with his mum. Let’s just say that among the titles was Free Willy and Free Willy 2 and you catch the theme!
As for Ryan, also back for his fourth Nottingham festive run, he certainly caught the eye in a plethora of costume changes, including one that split loyalties between Nottingham Forest and Notts County.
A running theme was a burgeoning romance between Betty and a member of the audience in the front row.
Nickless and Ryan also played key roles in two hilarious scenes — the pleasant pheasant pluckers and the traditional ‘If I Were Not Upon This Stage’.
Complementing all this frivolity was also some clever writing from Alan McHugh and storyline tweaks that were at play to make the tale perfect for the panto stage.
Belle is fabulously played by Naomi Slights who lights up the stage with her wonderful voice and equally eye-catching outfits — particularly a hooped yellow ballgown (echoes of her Disney equivalent) when she dances with the Beast.
Performing as the traditional baddie was Danny Bayne as the chiselled, bicep-popping Trent Bridge who, if he can’t have Belle for himself, is determined to see to it that the Beast can’t find happiness.
That plays perfectly into the hands of the evil Deadly Nightshade (Natalie Spriggs), who cast the original spell to turn the vain Prince Sebastian into the Beast when he rebuffs her advances. Trent is a perfect pawn in her game but she doesn’t reckon on the flourishing love between Bell and the Beast.
The show is fast-paced and engaging and no review can go by without mentioning the giant kraken at the end of the first act or the brilliant 3D segment in the second half. Although anyone with young children may want to cover their eyes!
The talent of the cast, brilliant set designs, an engaged audience and a superb display by the troupe of high-energy dancers makes this show a festive gift that keeps on giving.
Beauty And The Beast continues at the Theatre Royal until January 14. For ticket pricing, availability and bookings call 0115 9895555 or CLICK HERE to visit the website.