Beauty and the Beast

Date 13th January 2024
Society Winton Players
Venue Festival Hall, Petersfield
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Penny Young
Musical Director Philip Young
Choreographers Molly Bryant, Lucy Davies, Joe Tully
Written By Alan P Frayn


Author: Mark Donalds

It's that time of the year again (oh, yes it is!) and one of the highlights of the panto season is always Winton Players’ annual treat for kids of all ages. Billed as Petersfield’s “Proper Panto”, Alan P. Frayn’s script takes the traditional story of a young prince who has been turned into a beast by a witch and can only be released by finding true love. He mixes in bits of other stories to turn it, rather successfully I thought, into a pantomime.

Even before the curtains opened, we were struck by the stunning set (big cheer for the Artful Bodgers) and the sumptuous lighting (Tom Pearce of the Green A Team). Costumes too (The Wardrobe Wizards) were top-notch, and props (Paula Collard, Grace Moritz and Lyn Pease) were excellent, especially the mirror and the clever devices used in the beauty salon scene. It all demonstrated the high production values this group has, and added to the feeling that this was a quality panto which had been carefully planned and executed by Director Penny Young and her huge production team.

The story is introduced by the good fairy, Flora – Karla Welch on sparkling form – and the wicked witch Belladonna – Anne-Lise Kadri, well able to whip up the audience to booing her – both in splendid costumes and make-up and keeping up the tradition of good on stage right and evil on stage left. Daisy Bedford portrayed Belle as a sparky young woman, not the victim that pantos usually feature. She sang beautifully and lit up the stage. Tara Taylor and Nicola Hillyer as her sisters Whitney and Britney were a wonderful bickering double-act, very much like Cinderella’s ugly sisters, making the most of their comedy moments, especially in the beauty salon scene. Phil Humphries was a very traditional Dame – Madame Fifi – with some splendid costumes and wigs and a good connection with the audience, teaching us a little French along the way, with Em Sefton-Smith as Jaques, her comic sidekick, with great comic timing.

Joff Lacey and Joanne Stephenson gave good portrayals of the Beauty Salon owners Marcel and Monique – Joanne’s Essex accent good enough to appear on Eastenders, while Joff’s camp “Mr Humpries” style Marcel felt a little dated, but I guess that’s how the part was written. By contrast, Simon Stanley’s Gustave was very masculine and delightfully out of touch with the sort of man Belle was looking for. George Pinhorn was in great thigh-slapping form as Prince Danton, while Jez Austin as his beast alter-ego was ferocious but with a hint of likeability. Wayne Pinhorn as Alphonse and Steve Sheppard as Le Fou completed the very capable cast.

It was great to see such a large chorus, all in great form, dancing and singing with enthusiasm, right down to the littlest, all looking like they were having a wonderful time. Choreography (by Molly Bryant, Lucy Davies and Joe Tully) was imaginative, making the most of the cast’s talents and filling the stage with movement and colour. Songs were well chosen and singing by principals and chorus alike was excellent throughout. It was nice to have live accompaniment and MD Philip Young on keyboard and Lawrence Crane on drums were all that was needed, giving a great variety of sounds and styles. The sound system, which can be very variable in this hall, was excellent, allowing us to hear everything and adding some good sound effects – thanks to Simon Auty and Janet Auty of Green A Team.

It was a great afternoon’s entertainment and we all emerged from the hall, aching from the booing and cheering and humming the catchy tunes. This is what family entertainment is all about!