[This is an extended version of the review published in the Bishop Burton Newsletter of January 2014]. Pictutes of the panto are available in the Gallery.

The Bishop Burton Events Group served up another great pantomime this year - Beauty and the Beast – and it played to sell-out and enthusiastic audiences on Friday and Saturday night, a tremendous achievement in these days of falling audiences for live theatre.

Your reporter was sadly forced to miss the live pantomime this year. He was deputed by the Caerphilly Courier to review a cruise off the islands of Cape Verde. Yes, I know, what cruise can compare with the joys of the village pantomime confected by a retired dentist from Johnson’s Pond? But the editor (who must be obeyed) insisted and there we were, up a creek with a paddle.

We were initially hopeful that we would be able to watch a live stream from the village hall across the internet. We knew that the best we could get would be a black and white picture, but in the event, the broadband speeds let us down (yet again). So this review is based on a full colour video taken by Simon Cherry who thereby proves that he can multi-task: producing video and great sound. The international debut of the BB Pantomime will have to wait another year. Maybe it could feature as the highlight of our push to become the European Village of Culture 2020 (category: small villages with white houses)? Or will that too be soon (BT) to get our broadband improved; should we go for 2032 instead? Ah, but by then we’ll be ineligible as a suburb of Market Weighton.

I had expected to be writing this while on our cruise. So there would have been wobbly lines and the odd smudge occasioned by the odd squall. But since the black and white internet didn’t reach Cape Verde all this has been done from the stability of my desk at home. I have though entered into the spirit of the panto, so I’ve been shouting “Behind you”, “Oh no he isn’t” along with the rest of the audience and, of course, taking substantial refreshments at the interval.

Enough of this; what about the panto, you ask? Beauty and the Beast was the choice this year. It’s a traditional fairy tale with obscure European origins. Mr Lund’s great script and casting added a spice of transvestism to the essential reverse transmogrification of the tale.

Karen Mosley was the Beauty and Graeme Pittaway, village super stud, was the Beast aka Prince Wupert. Both were tremendous and had a great rapport with audience. Graeme’s movements had echoes of his epic role as a chicken in last year’s panto. Perhaps a looser thong is called for. Then at least he’d be able to remember which was his bad leg. Karen’s mix of syrup and Domestos was ideally suited to her role as an edgy, goody two-shoes daughter. Although we have to say her good humour was well tested rather by a naughty boy at the front – and I don’t mean Trevor Thomas who was magnificent as ever as man in front of house!

Was I the only one to think that some of the casting was all wrong this year? What were Rodger Middleton and Mark Hoddinott doing prancing about in ladies’ clothes, some of which would have graced a page 3 pin-up? Ann Cherry’s dresses were stunning and she did a great job finding enough cloth from the local haberdashers to wrap round these guys. At one point you felt the audience gasp (causing them to forget their lines) as the two came on stage in yet another outfit fit for the wardrobe of Danny La Rue. I know Rodger and Mark were very funny and they obviously had a great time in their roles (too much so perhaps for Lynn and Nickie’s peace of mind) but really, the ladies of Bishop Burton should be up to the job! Next thing you know, we’ll have Jack Wray playing the juvenile lead.

There was new blood in the cast this year and what a difference it made. Postman Ron with his black not white cat stole the show. Beware though, Ron. Don’t get typecast! You’re too good for that.

The plot of the pantomime was partly prescribed in the programme prettily produced by Norma King. The plot is spare or do I mean sparse? Man with spend-thrift daughters falls on hard times (Peter Frewer typecast again as A Loser – will he never get lucky in the offshore casino of the Humber estuary?); man goes to Market Weighton and gets lost; man stumbles across cottage, goes to bed and is blackmailed by a beast into an unfair contract; man goes home and takes his daughter back to the beast; daughter is kind to the beast who turns into a prince and they all live happily ever after. [Note to Editor – why don’t we have a soaraway, giveaway competition for the shortest précis of the panto’s plot? Editor – give away???!!! You cannot be serious! ]

A notable technological advance this year was the stage lighting introduced by Charleyne Wright who also kindly donated 5p for the meter. Now at least the audience can see every wart and misplaced comb-over on the actors. This suited the new hyper-realism of this year’s production where every pause and gesture counted. Also we could now see in fine detail the great sets created by Robin Douthwaite including the portraits kindly contributed by the Bishop Burton Society of Watercolourists How impressive they were; their brushwork was worthy of village artist G Slappaway at his best.

Interspersing the plot’s progress were interludes of humour, song and drama in which elements of other pantomimes and fairy tales were skilfully interwoven into the primary plot line. So in part 1, we have seven dwarf frackers losing their way from Snow White and meeting Mr A Loser on his way back home. Gina Douthwaite Paul Hankin, Sue and Gerry Brooks, Paul and Heather Hayward and Nickie Hoddinott entertain us to a fanfare of “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go!” Although I have to say the frackers didn’t look as if they’d done a day’s fracking in their lives, but I suppose the talent pool of villagers who can actually frack is quite shallow.

Mr Lund takes seriously his duty to both educate and amuse the audience. So this year, we have a tutorial session on the dialects to the south west of Beverley. I for one find it very useful to know that a perp in Hull is a pope elsewhere. I hope this philological project won’t deflect him from his efforts to create an Acker Bilk Tribute Band and raise funds by busking at the bus-stop.

This year Santa Claus asked the children to let him have their wishes for Christmas. But he should have asked that they made their requests legible so that he and Trevor could have avoided the prolonged discussions as to the content of the letters. Les Hebb was this year’s visitor, taking up very well the mantle of the sadly-missed Terry White.

Part 1 ended with the usual rush to the bar and I am happy to report that no one was injured this year or choked on a mince pie or ice cream.

So suitably refreshed, the audience (me included) settled down to the second part of the pantomime. The lighting of the audience was a little strange as they appeared to have turned the audience green. Was this a subtle bit of product placement for Shrek toys? Who knows?

Part 2 begins with Beauty and her father returning to the Beast’s palace. Father leaves her with the Beast and she now at last is dressed in a magnificent costume thoroughly eclipsing her sisters. The Fairy Buttercup appears, stylishly played by Jack Wray, as elegant as ever in a yellow fairy outfit which glittered in the sparkling lights. Beauty is told the Beast is kind but she will have to remain his friend and companion.

A letter from Beauty’s sisters threatens this domestic idyll. Father is “badly” and Beauty is required at home. The Beast agrees to a visit of a week.

The scene switches to the poor cottage where a trio of merry carol singers from Hull, City of Culture 2017, attempt to get some money out of the sisters, only succeeding when they promise not to sing! Sue Thomas, Anne Frewer and Charleyne Wright sang most notes sweetly and in the right order but had difficulty with their positioning on the stage. [Note to Director – put them on before the interval next year.]

It being Christmas, Pansy and Petal receive a parcel from the ubiquitous Postman Ron who is being worked to death as befits the junior member of the troupe. The two sisters change behind a screen into their new outfits and wigs; if you weren’t there and can’t see the photos on the village web site, the best comparison I can think of is the Vicky Pollard character in Little Britain wearing very tight dresses which fail to conceal a fair amount of flesh. The two sisters treat us to a very funny rendition of the song “Sisters” from White Christmas, famously sung by the Beverley Sisters in the 1950s.

Beauty is on her way home and bumps into the three bears played energetically by Alison Taylor, Ricardh Tomlinshon and Marianna Hankin. They mistake her for Goldilocks (wrong panto again) and again produce some good laughs.

On reaching home, Beauty discovers Father isn’t really “badly” and so returns to the palace where she finds the Beast in a right state. He can’t live without Beauty and is found trying to drink himself to death letting the palace fall into rack and ruin. Moments of angst and a beautiful soliloquy by Beauty cause the Beast to shed his “Rod Stewart mask” and he is now reborn as the effete Pwince Wupert of Wuwitania. There was a magic word involved in this transition but I missed it. [Note to self: ask Simon where the rewind button is]. Despite several appeals from the audience for the Prince to restore his mask and become a Beast again, Beauty accepts the Prince’s offer of marriage and this leads us to a celebratory finale of “Sisters” with the audience joining in most heartily.

So another year has passed; another marvellous panto is over. Let’s do it again, shall we? Congratulations to the effervescent and irrepressible dentist from Johnson’s Pond and his supporters!

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