REVIEW: Matlock Musical Theatre’s panto Beauty and the Beast

Matlock Musical Theatre's production of Beauty and the Beast, starring Jo Petch
Matlock Musical Theatre's production of Beauty and the Beast, starring Jo Petch

Trick or treat...a Halloween panto sounded like the former but in reality was the latter.

Matlock Musical Theatre trod new ground yesterday (Saturday) by staging their first panto and in so doing stole a march on the professionals who launch their seasonal spectaculars later this month.

Judging by the standing ovation at the end of the second and final performance last night, there will be many more where that came from.

This production had all the best elements of panto - plenty of good gags, colourful costumes, great songs and a chance to pelt the baddie.

A pick and mix of the favourite fairy stories were stirred into a witch’s cauldron and bubbled away nicely to produce a Matlock version of Beauty and the Beast.

The town itself was renamed Batlock, the townsfolk were out to hunt down the Beast of Bonsall Moor and fears that the castle would be turned into apartments struck a resonant chord.

Writer and director James Strath had obviously derived a lot of enjoyment from putting together the story of a once-rich merchant, his three daughters - two wicked, avaricious sisters and their kind, selfless sibling - a dame who was once a fairy godmother and a diabolical villain and his hunchbacked sidekick.

A masterclass in make-up saw John Kersey barely recognisable as the colourful dame Mrs Nobbs, hamming it up with Jim Eaglesham in the duet You’re The One That I Want.

Jo Petch played the kindly Belle and got the chance to sing the most contemporary song in the panto, What Makes Youi Beautiful in scene 13, which was lucky for One Direction fans.

Jess Harmatt, playing The Beast, was more striking than grotesque while Sara-Kate Townsend played the Prince who literally couldn’t wait to get his hands on a lady.

Great portrayals of the wicked characters saw Steve Clements send up the villain Dr Akula unmercifully with some hilarious robotic dancing and comical facial impressions while Les Small lived up to his name as he shuffled around the stage bent double in his role as Frankenstein escapee Igor.

Maria Dent and Kathryn Kersey, playing the mean sisters Susan and Lucy, looked like wicked witches in their black outfits with red sparkly talons attached to the fingers of their gloves. Their duet, Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, was among the vocal highlights and a credit not only to its performers but also to musical director Delph Richards.

Skeleton staff in the castle were played by Rachel Betteridge as Mrs Skelly, whose beautiful singing deserves much more prominence in the next show, Malcolm Mason as Mr ‘Bones’ Skelly and Rochelle Harris as Maidservant.

The cast made good use of the stage and auditorium at the Imperial Rooms in Matlock. Beth Allwright as Felix the dog made her entrance from the door at the back of the auditorium and moved around the aisles on all fours.

With a show of this calibre, the supporters of Matlock Musical Theatre will be begging for more.

GAY BOLTON