Beauty and the Beast

Date 8th January 2022
Society Corby Amateur Theatrical Society
Venue The Core Theatre at Corby Cube
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Craig Machar
Musical Director Barbara Hockey
Choreographers Jack Jenkins and Marcia Mitchell

Report

Author: Luke Campbell

Opening Remarks

Corby Amateur Theatrical Society (‘CATS’) is well known for staging its crowd-pleasing family pantomimes, which – for over 40 years – have served as Corby’s official town panto.The society’s role in the community is clearly an important one: it offers a safe environment in which children can learn the craft of theatre; provides a home where adults can share their passion for performing arts; and produces outstanding shows through which the community reaps the benefits of live theatre.

For me, CATS’s central and vital role in the community was demonstrated by the long ‘shout out list’ at the end of the pantomime which concluded with the audience – lead by Luke Campbell Simcoe and Bianca Harker – singing, with gusto, happy birthday to a four-year-old patron, Hallie. Encapsulated in such a gesture is the beauty of community theatre: the creation of an intimate memory that will last a lifetime!

After, necessarily postponing the society’s 2021 pantomime, it was clear to me that the members of CATS, and the people of Corby, were overjoyed to see the return of a live family pantomime to the Core Theatre at the Cube. I too was delighted to be asked by CATS to ‘be [their] guest’ and review the society’s production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.  

The Show

The tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is, of course, ‘as old as time’ – but, as my nod to the song suggests, most of us are more familiar with the interpretation offered by Disney than the version plotted in pantomime scripts. The story staged by CATS did not, however, disappoint: the script delivered everything you would expect from a traditional family pantomime.

I, like the audience (on a busy Saturday night), thoroughly enjoyed CATS’s wonderful production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’! The production ticked all the right boxes when it comes to panto: funny yet endearing, audience arousing, and a feast for the eyes. Many congratulations on a job well done!

Creatives

Direction by Craig Machar was of a good standard. It was clear to me that Craig had rehearsed the cast well with the view to creating a slick production. The blocking was reasonably diverse, giving some texture and depth for the audience to enjoy. A favourite scene of mine was Act II, Scene 4: The Beauty Parlour. Directing such scenes, with extensive amounts of physical comedy, is never easy; however, I thought the delivery of this essential panto scene was brilliant.

CATS is clearly blessed in its venue, the Core Theatre. I would, therefore, like to see the direction consistently fully embrace the space on offer to avoid imbalanced or bunched ensemble blocking and lines of principals (the latter is a particular pet hate of mine).

Musical direction by Barbra Hockey (aka Auntie Barbra) was of a high standard. The cast was well practiced in vocals, with company numbers producing a rich sound with accomplished harmonies, which was pleasing given the limited male vocals available. I particularly enjoyed the following company numbers: ‘Be Our Guest’, ‘I’m a Believer’, and ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’. All the principal/solo numbers were delivered well, but I must say ‘I Put a Spell on You’, sung by Caroline Young, was a master class in how to deliver a characterised panto number. I also found Heidi Coleman’s rendition of ‘Tale as Old as Time’ to be endearing. The small band, which provided the music throughout the evening, should be congratulated on its talented offering to the production.

Jack Jenkins’s choreography of the senior dance troupe was of a very good standard with the numbers enhancing the production. I particularly enjoyed the natural expression encouraged in the finale, in which Jack (who also played Gustave) demonstrated his own abilities with co-star Caroline Young. Marcia Mitchell, who choreographed the junior dance troupe, also did a brilliant job. The numbers, which required the juniors to be well versed in ballet and tap, were charming and a welcomed addition to the family show. 

Cast

The cast of principals was a strong one, with all members working hard to develop clear characterisation that conformed to the requirements of their parts and met the demands of traditional pantomime characters. There are, however, some performances that are particularly worthy of note.

First, a massive well done to Karen Morgan on her portrayal of Whitney. It is quite astonishing that she stepped into the role with two days’ notice. Karen was – as far as I am concerned – line perfect. But, of course, stepping into a role at short notice is about more than lines: Karen delivered on characterisation, stage presence and craft, and vocals. I congratulate Karen on no mean feat, a feat I do not think I would have taken on!

Second, the comedy duos: yes, there were two. Starting with Adele Jamookeeah (the other half to Karen’s Whitney) whose delivery of one of Belle’s ‘ugly’ sisters, Britney, was rich in panto comedic value. Such an achievement is only realised by an actor’s fearlessness around inhibitions. Well done. Followed by Phil Mills and Sarah Madden who, respectively, delivered the crowd-pleasing roles of Marcel and Monique. The pair did a brilliant job.

Third, Caroline Young’s offering, as Belladonna, was terrific. It was hardly a surprise to me to see – from the cast bios in the programme – that Caroline has been treading the boards with CATS since 1995. The characterisation was outstanding and stage craft brilliant. Caroline’s performance is one which many of the younger principals could learn a great deal from.

Finally, I must applaud the work of Luke Campbell Simcoe as the show’s Dame, Madame Fefi. Luke is clearly a talented actor who is very experienced in his portrayal of the pantomime Dame. Luke’s comedic timing is excellent, his ability to work an audience is brilliant, and his wit should not be underestimated by cast or audience alike. With a laugh that combines the chuckle of the late Dame Barbra Windsor OBE and the chortle of Elaine Paige OBE, I really need say no more!

Congratulations to the ensemble on the contribution that each member made to the production. Characterisation was strong and interaction with the cast enthusiastic. It is clear to me that talented future principals lie within the ranks of CATS’s junior ensemble members. 

The execution of the dance numbers by the senior dance troupe was of a good standard – the synchronised cartwheels were particularly impressive. The offerings of the junior dance troupe – also students at Dena Smith’s School of Dance – were heart-warming. The wide smiles and the well poised movement executed by juniors showed how much effort they were putting into their contribution to the show.

Production

The scenery was of a good standard. The staging and props were suitable for the production. Costumes were well sourced and in keeping with the show.

Sound was very good throughout the production. The lighting design was of a good standard. It was a shame the crew were unable to utilise stage smoke and pyrotechnics due to a fault with the venue’s fire alarm isolation system – these aids always enhance the visual offering. Nevertheless, the production team did a superb job.

Well done to the backstage crew, who managed scene transitions with ease. One observation, I would encourage the adult ensemble to assist with the transition of scenes – for example, removing staging – this will add to the overall professionalism of the production. Alternatively, costume the backstage crew if they are to be visible to the audience.

I also extend my thanks to the chaperones without whom the pantomime stage would be missing the important presence of children.

The programme, which was available electronically due to COVID-19, was of a professional standard. The poster that marketed the show was equally of a high standard.

Closing Remarks

My warmest of congratulations for a brilliant production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

As Community Theatre builds back from the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic, I consider it vital to acknowledge the huge amount of work undertaken by the committees at societies to keep theatre alive and accessible in our communities. From my discussions with Peter Morgan – a representative of the Committee of CATS that was my host for the evening – it is clear to me that the CATS Committee has worked relentlessly over the past 20 months to ensure that the well-established society weathered the storm. I congratulate all Committee members on the tenacity shown – I know how trying the recent months must have been. On behalf of Noda East Midlands, I thank you for continuing to provide a vital service to the people of Corby and amateur theatre generally.  

In the current stage of the pandemic, which sadly seems to be far from over, it is imperative that audiences feel safe to venture into auditoriums. I applaud CATS and the Core Theatre for its commitment to creating a COVID-19 secure venue in which we could all feel safe. 

I thank CATS for the hospitality shown to me upon my visit.

I look forward to seeing the Society’s next production, ‘Legally Blond: The Musical’, which I very much hope CATS will be able to stage – as planned – in June 2022.