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Beauty and the Beast, Gordan Craig Theatre, 24 Nov - 22 Jan 2011/12


Unlike any other form of theatre, the great British pantomime thrives on its predictability - a tried and tested set of ingredients that festive theatre goers would be amiss without. Imagine therefore the sheer brilliance of a pantomime where every element is a faultless example of how to do it best.


The fast-paced, pun-filled, self-mocking script told the familiar story while perfectly balancing bright-eyed slapstick for the kids with mischievous innuendo for the adults. Throw away lines that flew under the radar of innocent ears were met with raucous hysterics from the more mature audience members.


Added to that was a compilation of pop music, happy-clappy dance routines and the usual huddle of loveable characters: a rogue baddie, handsome prince, that Buttons guy, and of course everyone’s favourite the dame. Ah yes the dame. And what a dame!


The one, and I’m willing to bet only, hidden gem of Stevenage, Paul Laidlaw as Dame Derriere was truly incredible – and every other superlative you can think of for that matter. An on-stage presence as tickling as the great Eric Morecombe, Laidlaw is a master of comic timing who could have the audience in stitches with a wink of an eye or a pout of the lips.


Just as note-worthy was the second half of the show-stealing double act Chris Clarkson as Potty Pierre (Buttons to you and me). His expert negotiation of the narrow line between working the kids into a hyperactive frenzy without sending the rest of the audience insane was appreciated by all. Every Laidlaw/Clarkson scene was a sheer joy to watch, their brilliantly distracting skit behind Graham James as Jean Jacques singing his big ballad of the show, She, was hysterical – a masterclass of comic acting.


Needless to say good friend Simon Pontin was on fine form as usual as The Beast both in voice and command of the stage – his exuberant Austin Powers entrance (pre-beast) set the standard for a powerful performance.


Token celeb Bernie Nolan was surprisingly impressive as the wicked Malevolent  and Rachel Jerram of Avenue Q fame was equally faultless in the role of Beauty.


The one blot on an otherwise showcase pantomime was Olivier award-winner Leanne Jones. Failing to put in a performance as Fairy Formidable, Jones was hampered by her characters’ French accent and appeared to be the only cast member showing the effects of a gruelling performance schedule.


Despite this, Beauty and the Beast is without doubt the best panto I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, making Paul O’Grady’s Cinderella look distinctly am-dram. Despite the location, I’m already planning my trip back to Stevenage next Christmas.


And a final note for all future dames I have the pleasure watching… choosing me as that guy on the front row to flirt with, is a proven, sure-fire way of triplicating my enjoyment. Madame Derriere if you’re reading, my number is: [removed for fears 'she' might actually get in touch].