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Beauty and the Beast – Mercury Theatre. Colchester

Credit: Mark Senior

Just like a tin of sweeties at Christmas, the Mercury Theatre panto this year gives us our favourite flavours as well as the new ones we can taste for the first time.

Sounds like a strange analogy but when you enter the Mercury Auditorium and see the sweet, themed set and see Betty Bon Bon’s Sweet shop then perhaps it makes more sense. The first big company song is with the Junior Chorus and Belle in a medley of musical theatre hits themed around Colchester. Belle played by Alexandra Barredo is making her debut in Panto, and what a panto to start with. Alexandra has a delightful singing voice and despite her diminutive size she held her own against the other principals. I personally just wish she didn’t constantly grab her crinoline skirt and pull it up every time she moved. It wasn’t too long for her so perhaps her own insecurity at wearing it, but it spoiled some of the nicer moments with the Beast.

Prince Friedrich / The Beast was played by Daniel Jagusz-Holley. This was a strong performance from Daniel not least of all because I imagine spending such a long time on the specialist stilts for his hoofs must have put a great strain on his leg muscles. But he sang and performed extremely well and worked particularly well with Alexandra.

Sasha Latoya as Cupid has a lovely singing voice and had the right amount of sweetness and fun in her performance and was the perfect foil to Jamie Pruden as Spite. Jamie had fantastic vocals and really embodied the role as the panto baddie. There was a real feeling of Maleficent in her performance which I really loved.

No Panto at Colchester would now ever be complete without the delectable duo of Dale Superville and Antony Stuart-Hicks. This year playing Almondé and Betty Bon Bon respectively. Once again, these two lit up the stage with their fun-loving personalities and their great stage presence.

Dale is always so appealing on stage and the children relate to him so well, the little girl behind me described him as the ‘wibbly wobbly boy’ and given his physicality when he performs, I can understand that.

Antony is a master at what he does, and I was told, prior to seeing this year’s pantomime, by a knowledgeable theatre friend that they though he was the best pantomime dame they had ever seen. I took this as high praise and watching Antony interacting with the audience last night I am inclined to agree.

However, Antony and Dale are at their best when they are together and when they ad lib and play around with the script and each other - the humour is infectious. I would love to be a fly on the wall to see what mischief they get up to at every performance.

The choice of music was particularly good this year under the baton of Paul Herbert and the choreography of Simon Hardwick was expertly delivered by the junior chorus and added to the whole production, but I did feel overall that something was missing this year. Perhaps it’s because we expect so much from the Mercury and it’s difficult to maintain such a high standard year after year.

However, this doesn’t mean it was not an excellent pantomime and a thoroughly entertaining evening out. If you are looking for the start of Christmas and a chance to forget, for a short time the worries of the world, and have a good laugh then the Mercury Panto is the perfect choice.

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