We’re huge fans of the Oxford Playhouse pantomime. For us it marks the start of Christmas and gets us in the mood for the mad weeks ahead. So we were a tad (OK, very) excited when we took our seats yesterday for the opening night of Beauty and the Beast. I found myself sitting next to a Slovenian lady who was enjoying her first pantomime. When she admitted her surprise at how many children were in the audience I immediately worried she wouldn’t enjoy this peculiarly British affair…..
Last year we thought the first half of Robin Hood didn’t quite live up to our incredibly high expectations. But this year the opening song ‘Happy’ immediately got the audience tapping their toes. It was a great song to kick off the show and set the scene for the rest of the performance.
I’m sure everyone knows the story of Beauty and the Beast so I won’t repeat it here. It did have the potential to be a little confusing, with dream characters and flashback scenes. However the cast and narrator did a good job of explaining the story, with lines like ‘so this is just a dream, it’s not real’.
The first half included an impressive circus set, with acrobatic skills on ropes and hoops. Tumbletoes, Beauty’s dog, rather strangely, became a pole dancing dog, who was able to slide down the pole head first and then come to an abrupt halt a few inches from the floor. However, the scene was stolen by the Dame and her son when they demonstrated their gymnastic ribbon skills (or lack of).
The outright star of the show was Dame Jolena Jollychops, played by Leon Craig. Lucky Jason in the front seats (insert another man’s name for future performances) became the butt of the Dame’s jokes and ended up on stage. The Dame managed to get an impromptu spotted dick joke in based on his outfit and generally enjoyed lots of banter with the audience; he really was superb.
There was a good choice of music throughout the panto, with something for everyone. According to my kids this included a couple of songs from Frozen which will definitely appeal to the younger audience members. Other songs were based on ‘Stay with me’, ‘How long will I love you’ and ‘The sun has got his hat on’.
The costumes and set scenery were excellent as always. Dame Jolena had a multitude of outfits (watch out for the stripy one and the feather head dress) and the beast’s costume was particularly realistic. So much so that his first appearance was accompanied by a poor kid in the audience bursting into terrified sobs!
The panto was again directed by Peter Duncan of Blue Peter/Chief Scout fame and I spotted him in the audience. There was a reference to Blue Peter badges, which probably passed by the kids, and lots of cheesy jokes. I won’t spoil things by including them here but I hope I remember them for the next time someone says ‘tell us a joke’. They were my kind of one liners.
The start of the second half was a cracker. A Bollywood dance scene, set to the music of Jai Ho, with the Dame as chief dancer. I wish this part could have been longer, it was certainly my highlight. Bollywood was followed by a Hollywood scene, in which my daughter thought the Dame was dressed as Miss Piggy, rather than (I presume) Marilyn Monroe.
The second half was full of the usual panto antics with the ‘it’s behind you’ farce, more Jason jokes and an audience singalong. Three children went up on stage, including a little girl in a pink dress. It was so funny when she said her nanny had bought the dress, although not the nanny in the audience. Dame Jolena had a field day with that remark! The only thing missing in the second half was the sweet throwing; not that we ever catch any, it’s just one of those panto traditions you expect.
If I’m being really picky, there were a couple of bits that didn’t work quite as well. A mechanical witches eye took on the part of the baddie, giving the audience something to boo at. However it would have been better if there was an actual person playing the baddie, as I found it quite hard to understand what it was saying. Secondly, Tumbletoes the dog was randomly accompanied by a musical clip-clopping whenever it did a tumble or handstand; this was a little annoying but seemed to stop after a while which I was glad of. But neither of these really impacted my enjoyment in any way.
And as for the Slovenian lady? Fortunately she loved the panto, even though she said it wasn’t quite what she was expecting. I heard a couple of other comments from people as they were leaving and they were all in agreement that this year’s pantomime is a classic. If you’ve already got tickets I hope you enjoy it. If not, buy some quick!
- The panto runs until 18 January 2015. Tickets are available from the Oxford Playhouse and range from £14.50 to £25.50.