Monday, 15 December 2014

Beauty and the Beast, Playhouse (Oxford)

"Mummy, is that a real dog?" (Eddie, 4)

Beauty (Sammy Andrews) and Princegeorge (Michael Pickering)

When Eddie's school  announced they were planning a trip to see Beauty and the Beast at Playhouse in Oxford, I offered my help as a volunteer. As my son has never been to a theatre before, I have told him what to expect, and he was looking forward to his first visit to the theatre. On Friday, when I got a call from his teacher that my help was not needed after all, I had to rethink our plans. I know my boy is shy, and I wanted to make his first time at the theatre as smooth as possible. If I couldn't accompany his class as a volunteer, why don't I just buy tickets online. Thankfully, there were a few tickets still available.
We got on the bus to Oxford, and every time we passed a big building, Eddie kept asking if that was the theatre. The traffic was horrendous, and we spent an anxious hour on the bus, wondering if we were going to make it in time.
We arrived just ten minutes before the start of the performance. It was the performance chosen by several schools, and the foyer was crowded.
My little man immediately got all emotional and started to cry. It was a bit overwhelming, I agree, so many people, talking loudly.
Holding my hand tightly, he hesitantly followed me inside. We found our seats, Eddie looked around in wonder, and felt better.
As soon as the first sound and visual effects appeared, he was mesmerised. "Amazing", he whispered to me.

I thought the panto would be based on Disney's Beauty and the beast, but no, the script and music were completely different.

Beauty (Sammy Andrews)

The plot is based on a classic fairy tale, well known in many languages and cultures. In fact, there is a Russian fairy story called "Alen'kii tsvetochek" or "The scarlet flower", but I am digressing from our Oxford panto.
Eddie followed the story with great interest, even if at times he was a tad confused about the dream scenes and flashback moments.

There was a lot of acrobatics, with the very agile and cute Tumbletoes (Beauty's dog) who was the heroine of the show, according to my son.

Tumbletoes (Kate McWilliam) is soaring above the circus

While Eddie's heart was won over by talented Tumbletoes, I thought it was the Dame who totally stole the show. Dame Jolena Jollychops as played by Leon Craig kept changing outfits, one more outrageous than another.

Jolena and Beauty's father

There were a lot of smutty jokes, intended for the adult audience only. One can hate them, or one can argue that this tradition of coarse jokes and sexual innuendos goes back in history to the times of Ancient Greece and its classic comedies, well known for their colourful language, crude jokes and phallic symbols. In less distant times, it would have been Rabelaisian bawdy and risque puns and exaggerations.
In a way, it wouldn't be a British panto without spicy adult jokes.
Going back to our resplendent Dame, she excelled in keeping the audience in stitches. This was a cross-dressing magic taken to a level of divine.

All the costumes were colourful, and the scenery was impressive. Eddie loved the falling snow flakes in the storm scene, and the floating lights. He was quite scared of the big witch's eye, and spent half of the show on my lap, just in case.
He was so enthusiastic, shouting with the audience "Behind you" and pointing to where Beauty has gone. It was so touching when he asked me if the dog was a real one, and later if the Beast was real too, bless him. To be 4 years old and so trusting.

Behind you! 

The panto was directed by Peter Duncan.
There was a bit of Bollywood, and a bit of Hollywood. There was a circus, and a lot of singing.
Beauty and the Beast sang beautifully together.

There were a few uneven bits in the show, when the children from the audience were invited onstage and were telling about where they came from. That I found rather tedious.
Someone asked us after the show if we caught any sweets, but no, there wasn't any sweets-throwing.
It was a very enjoyable show, and Eddie now wants to go to the theatre again.

It was such an emotional event, that on the way home Eddie fell asleep on the bus. But since we came home, he has talked about our trip non-stop. What a way to introduce my little man to magic of a British panto!

All the images from the show are reproduced with the kind permission from Oxford Playhouse.


  1. The show looks really good and I am glad your little man had such a good time.

  2. I've never seen this show but I hope we will go to see it one day as it looks wonderful.