2-12 April 2015
Reviewed by Catherine Dolan
I was fortunate enough to go along to see this pantomime along with my 2 ten year old grandchildren. It took us a fair bit of time to find suitable parking, probably because I have never been to Liverpool before. However, we finally parked in the 24 hour parking in the St John’s Centre, which is only a 5 minute walk from the theatre.
Formally known as Cranes Music Hall, Cranes Theatre and The Neptune Theatre, this 380 capacity, grade II listed theatre started out infamous for its amateur dramatic groups and has now progressed to being renowned for its rich variety and diverse family programming. After a well needed refurbishment in 2011 and re-named in memory of Liverpool’s most successful music entrepreneur and Beatles manager Brian Epstein, whose portrait hangs pertinently in Brian’s Bar, the theatre reopened its doors and is now a well-loved venue in the heart of the City Centre.
The Epstein is a fairly small theatre so you don’t feel too far from the action. The option to loan booster seats for 50p are available for young children and reasonable priced drinks and snacks were on sale.
The spectacular pantomime version of the family classic was bought to the Epstein Theatre this Easter by LHK productions. Beauty and the Beast tells the tale of a handsome Prince with no love in his heart. After an encounter with an enchantress, he is transformed into a terrifying Beast and the only way the wicked curse can be broken is if the Beast can find true love before the last petal from the magical rose falls.
Starring 5ive pop sensation Ritchie Neville in his panto debut as Anton, Grease is the Word’s Alison Crawford as Belle and the hilarious Michael Chapman as Dame Dolly Doughnut.
Alison Crawford is as Belle should be, all innocent beauty and dutiful loyalty as she returns to the Beast’s castle to free her father Dr Panache (Tom Burroughs) while Joe McAvoy has the young ones eating out of his hand as Loopy Louis, the lovable village idiot who holds a candle for Belle too.
Boyband star Ritchie Neville is top of the bill and is a suitably thrusting Count Anton, full of pent-up frustration as the beautiful Belle spurns his advances. He’s a mean hand with a water pistol, and the kids in the front rows enjoyed getting a bit drizzly! Very convincing ‘Beast’ too – not too scary for the little ones in the audience.
Some great dance routines from local children, some very young, who performed really well. Choreographer Holli Jo Bradley does a great job in managing to fit them all on to the Epstein stage, while musical director Alan Moore’s live band drives on the action from the pit. Michael Chapman as Dame Dolly Doughnut was very entertaining.
This panto, wasn’t like the exact ‘Disney’ story, It’s mixed with the classic songs like “Be our guest”, as well as modern songs such as “Uptown Funk” and references to 5ive songs too.
There was good old panto innuendo, which kept the “grown-ups” giggling, and the girls were unaware, as well as songs to sing and clap along too, and of course shout back, “bonjour Louey”.
There were plenty of surprises too, like when the Official Village Idiot ran through the audience, with Anton, following right behind, had the girlies is stitches of laughter. They slipped in one of my favourites songs for panto, the song “if I wasn’t a panto star, I would be….” which again, caused A LOT of giggles from the entire audience.
Audience participation encouraged by Dame Dolly (or Superboobs!) got Alfie and Lily on stage singing “The Wheels on the Bus” – well done to them both, a well-deserved Easter Egg for them for taking part.
Just goes to show a panto doesn’t have to just be for Christmas. The Easter Bunny even made an appearance in the show.
Definitely recommend for a family outing.
Tickets cost from £14.50 to £54 (booking fees may apply).
Beauty and the Beast is at the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool until 12 April 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 888 4411.
The Epstein Theatre, Hanover House, 85 Hanover Street, Liverpool, L1 3DZ | 0844 888 4411