THEATRE REVIEW: Westfield Folkhouse produces a beast of a panto - oh yes it does!

Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast

It’s that time of year when the January blues have set in, Christmas is a distant memory and those long, summer days appear to be a world away.

But fear not, because Westfield Folkhouse is on hand to help you banish the blues in style with this brilliant adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

This year’s offering, which is the group’s 77th production, is once again a laugh-a-minute panto packed with song, dance and brilliant one-liners.

In fact, there are so many rib-tickling gags I actually came away struggling to pick out one which was head and shoulders above any other.

But it’s fair to say there’s plenty of fun poked at local places like Shirebrook, the now demolished Brownlow Road, and Ravensdale - and any panto in Mansfield wouldn’t be the same without a friendly dig at Chesterfield!

I always feel sorry for Shirebrook when it comes to pantos as it always seems to come in for some stick!

As for the production itself, Beauty and the Beast is set in a small kingdom which tells the story of a handsome prince who becomes greedy and vain. 
He refuses the chance to change, but change is forced upon him as a fairy turns him into a beast. 
However, a chance meeting with Beauty’s father results in huge changes for all concerned and in true panto style, everyone lives happily ever after.

The stars of this show are undoubtedly the brilliantly-named Harry Bone (Dave Gell) and Billy Idle (Brandon Stafford) - a hapless duo who are at the centre of this fast-paced farce.

I always believe it’s unfair to highlight certain cast members over others, but Gell and Stafford - stalwarts of the Folkhouse scene - are brilliant and as popular as ever.

With their zany antics, audience interaction and bright and colourful attire, they really do typify the archetypal loud and brash panto double act.

But this production is not just about Gell and Stafford. No, there are strong performances throughout.

Martha Harris brought a touch of glamour to proceedings as Beauty Rochelle, while Alex Stafford as Prince Rene turned Beast - and of course back to the prince at the end - produced a superb all-round performance.

Martin Belcher was brilliant as the man-hungry and ridiculously colourful Madam La Clean, while Matthew Jayes proved a hit as the pompous Duke D’Arogance as he failed spectacularly to woo the girl of his dreams, Beauty.

Of course, like all pantos there is plenty of audience interaction - with regular cries of ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no he isn’t’ ringing out around the packed theatre.

There was also time towards the end of the panto for the audience to take part in a raucous sing-along with Bone and Idle to Tony Christie’s hit song Amarillo.

Throw in the usual mix of song and dance as well as some stunning sets and fantastically flamboyant costumes and you have the perfect ingredients for a great panto. And this certainly was.

Of course, one cannot end this review without a mention for the youngsters from local dance schools Christine March School of Dance, Lisa Gail Theatre School, Rollo Academy of Performing Arts, Razzamataz and the Syncopation School of Performing Arts. They all performed superbly and were a credit to their teachers.

‘Brilliant’ was the one word I kept hearing as I walked out of the Palace and into the cold January air - and it most certainly was.

Beauty and the Beast by Westfield Folkhouse is on at Mansfield Palace Theatre until Saturday (January 14).