Review: Beauty and the Beast at Bishop’s Stortford’s Rhodes Arts Complex- “a joyful and smart Christmas pantomime”

Merlin (Tom Brace) and Mme Fromage (Sarah Cook) from Beauty and the Beast at the Rhodes Arts Complex

Merlin (Tom Brace) and Mme Fromage (Sarah Cook) from Beauty and the Beast at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop's Stortford - Credit: Archant

It’s a recipe as old as time: mix in catchy tunes with dedicated, madcap performances and a dame who loves a cheeky Tinder scroll and what do you get? A joyful and smart Christmas pantomime.

Beauty and the Beast at the Rhodes Art Complex, in Bishop’s Stortford, delighted children and adults alike with its blend of pantomime staples and modern twists.

We find our heroine Belle (Maisie Humphreys) working at a karaoke bar owned by town heart-throb Gaston (Buck Braithwaite) who continuously attempts to woo Belle by crooning karaoke classics at her and arranging elaborate marriage proposals.

However, Belle wants so much more than this provincial town and when her doddery, endearing dad (George Jack) is trapped inside a castle by its owner, a reclusive beast (Paul Daly), Belle sets out to rescue him.

The castle’s housekeeper, Madame Fromage (Sarah Cook), with pink and yellow rollers in her hair, and her son Merlin (Tom Brace) have a bouncing, snappy chemistry. The pair flit between jokes for adults, such as making side swipes at politicians and appealing to kids with, amongst other moments, a haunted painting gag that led to furious pointing and a chorus of “She’s behind you!”

Buck Braithwaite as the leather trouser-wearing Gaston is hilarious. Channelling Matt Berry in television series The IT Crowd, he is repulsive yet likeable in his over-the-top self-assurance. Braithwaite trots like a pony and flaps his arms like a bird. At one point he exits the stage by crawling on the floor, for no apparent reason - a wonderfully outrageous performance.

As Belle, Humphreys is a confident performer and her voice soars. She takes on one of the biggest ballads of all time and wins.

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Occasionally, exchanges between the Beast and Belle lag and the romance feels tedious. This is soon forgotten however, when Gaston and his minion, LeFou (Abbie Middleton) storm on to the stage, or Merlin tries to persuade his sceptical mum that he has magical powers.

So, as a suave French candlestick once said: “They can sing, they can dance, after all miss, this is France (well, Bishop’s Stortford).”