JOYCE MCMILLAN on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Perth Concert Hall, for The Scotsman, 14.12.15
5 stars *****
PERTH’S THEATRE company may be in exile from its lovely home in the High Street, closed for redevelopment for at least another two years. Yet its annual traditional panto, staged at the Concert Hall with the help of a mock Victorian proscenium arch, has been racing up on the rails, in recent years, to challenge the big boys in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow; and now, Perth absolutely hits the bullseye, with a hilarious, beautifully-cast version of Beauty And The Beast set in the wee Perthshire town of Auchendreich, where the Beast has his castle.
This brisk panto version of the tale, written by the great Alan McHugh, dispenses with Beauty’s family back-story and dear old Dad. Instead, it cuts straight to the heart of things, where aged retainer Angus McFungus – last servant to remain loyal to the Beast after the witch’s curse – patrols Auchendreich High Street in search of a girl with a heart big enough to break the spell with her love, and meets Belle, on an ill-fated surfing trip with her daft friends Betty Blumenthal the cook, and Betty’s even dafter son Boabby; cue a chorus of Surfing Stanley Bay, a nearby dent in the River Tay. Also on the trail are Ugly Sisters Deadly Nightshade and Poison Ivy; Nightshade the very witch who cursed the Prince when he rejected her, and Ivy her put-upon wee sister, doomed by Nightshade’s spell to kill any man she snogs.
So it’s off to the castle for two-and-a-half hours of riotous fun, song, dance, ghoulies, ghosties and romance, as Belle wins the Beast’s heart, Betty and Boabbie pure josh him into keeping them alive, and a brilliant team of young dancers in 17th century finery spring out of the family portraits to join in the nightly fun. The success of Ian Grieve’s production depends, at heart, on the Rolls-Royce quality of his cast. AmyBeth Littlejohn is a gorgeous, humorous Belle, the Beast is rising star actor-playwright Martin McCormick, Amanda Beveridge is superb as Deadly Nighshade, her wee sister is Angela Darcy of Janis Joplin Full Tilt fame, Tom McGovern plays McFungus, and Betty is the remarkable Barrie Hunter, now quite possibly the best traditional Dame in Scotland.
If the casting is superb, though, there are also terrific original set and costume designs by Ken Harrison, easily the finest so far on this year’s panto circuit; along with joyous choreography by Lynne Bustard, and music, from the three-piece Perth Panto Orchestra, that not only drives the show from start to finish, but often becomes a real convivial part of it, at the heart of this beautiful home-cooked Scottish panto, done to perfection.
Perth Concert Hall, Horsecross, until 26 December.