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Review: Beauty and the Beast, Swansea Grand Theatre 2022/23

Hayley Gallivan as Belle, in The Beauty and the Beast pantomine at the Grand Theatre in Swansea, UK.

Swansea Grand Theatre and producers, Imagine Theatre, bring the classic fairy tale story to the stage for this year’s Christmas pantomime.

The French story itself has been around for hundreds of years, but arguably made famous by Disney’s animated film in 1992. Although the storyline has been adapted over the years, it loosely remains the same. There is a selfish prince, who gets turned into a beast, and the only way for him to redeem himself is to earn the love and trust of someone, all before the final petal falls from a rose.

Swansea Grand Theatre

For this year’s pantomime, Associate Producer Laura Taylor, Writer Christian Patterson, and all the creative team at Imagine Theatre have taken the story, evolved it and turned it into an enchanting family performance. This year, they’ve introduced a new digital display acting as the backdrop, which is simply remarkable and a first for us to witness how technology can play its part in theatre. It’s extremely versatile, transforming from village to forest, to ‘Oystermouth Castle’ and the fictional ‘Uplands Tavern’. It also acts as the story’s rose with falling petals, so keep a close eye on it.

The Beauty and the Beast, Swansea Grand Theatre

If you’re familiar with the Disney film, and if that’s the only version that you’ve seen, you might be wondering how Fairy Mumblena (Suzie Curran) and Enchantress Morgan Le Fay (Ella Biddlecombe) fits into this. However, you might be surprised to learn that what you think are additions or a differing story line, are in fact closer to the 1740s original. I’ll let you ponder that and if you are interested, it’s worth looking up.

Pictured: Kev John (Nanna Penny), Matt Edwards (Cyril), Hayley Gallivan (Belle)

Bringing this year’s panto to life is an incredible cast of local and big screen talent. Local legend Kevin Johns MBE plays the panto’s dame role of Nanna Penny, and this year marks his 30th year in panto and his 24th at the Grand. Every time Kev appears on stage, there is a roar of applause from the audience. He uses his local knowledge to his advantage and leaves the audience in stiches with his quick wit, outrageous costume changes and slightly edgy adult references – I’ve always been a fan of how these can be subtly added in, leaving children none the wiser and the adults crying with laughter.

Joe McFadden

Arriving from the big screen is Joe McFadden, a household name after starring in BBC drama Holby City and motorbike policeman heartthrob in Heartbeat. Joe finds himself playing ‘Barry Island’, not the place and for all intents and purposes, Wales’ answer to Gaston. Despite Barry’s efforts and nifty Strictly winning footwork to win over Belle, played by Swansea beaut Hayley Gallivan, Barry is more in love with himself than anyone else, much to amusement of the audience. Laughs are aplenty with Luke Bell as ‘Bob’ – Barry Island’s trusted, bumbling sidekick. Again, LeFou for those who have watched the Disney version.

Continuing the local line up is Simon Nehan, a former Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama pupil, Simon has repertoire of theatre and television credits behind him. Simon takes on the role of Willy in this panto – Belle’s inventor dad (Maurice in Disney). The role is perhaps downplayed in other versions, but Willy is pivotal in this production. I won’t even begin to tell you how amusing the audience found his character (and name).

Ella Biddlecombe

Now, there wouldn’t be a story or a beast if it wasn’t for the villain of the evening. The very enchanting Ella Biddlecombe is the witch that we love to hate. Ella plays Morgan Le Fay, the evil witch that turned the prince into the beast in the first place. However, that’s not all we see of her, instead, she is seen throughout, continuing to poison the developing relationship between Belle and the Prince. There is also a wicked turn of events and revelation at the end, which we won’t spoil.

Stefan Pejic

Talking of princes, Swansea’s very own Stefan Pejic takes on the magnificent Prince Daniel and the Beast. The seasoned panto performer is no stranger to the stage, having played various roles including Buttons, Abanazar and Captain Hook to name a few. This isn’t the easiest of roles to play, especially when his character is locked in his own battle of being a beast, whilst trying not to act like one. Although it is heart breaking to follow the prince’s journey, there are many joyful moments, especially when ‘Super Cyril’ (Matt Edwards) makes poor attempts of humour with him. That’s his character, not actually him being poor, I should say…

Matt Edwards, a Britain’s Got Talent grand finalist, brings his loveable comedic personality to the role of Cyril. I’m not exactly sure where Cyril fits into the story, he’s Nanna Penny’s son. A kind of male servant that you often see in pantos to help the leading lady on her journey. They usually have romantic eyes for them as well, although they always remain just friends. Matt provides laugh-a-minute antics to warm up the Swansea crowd. I can’t count how many times he had everyone in stiches, especially in the 12 days of Christmas routine.

The Beauty and the Beast at the Swansea Grand Theatre – unusually, the audience were invited to take photos at the end of the performance

Will Belle find true love and help to break the Prince’s spell? You’ll have to go and find out for yourselves. All we will say is that there is an unexpected and explosive twist during the finale, as all paths cross and the truth is finally revealed.

It is great to see how they’ve incorporated the Welsh language into the script and choice of music, more than we’ve seen elsewhere. The references to Port Talbot, Mumbles and other communities helps connect with the audience and provides plenty of laughs, with its tongue-in-cheek humour.

If you are familiar with the Disney film, you might be expecting many of the film’s most renowned songs, but you won’t find them in this production. However, the outstanding performances and song covers, not only enhance, but fit perfectly well with the show. You might also be expecting Mrs Potts, Chip or Lumiere, but you won’t find those either. This is made up for and then some with other magic and wizardry – especially when the library of ‘fair tales’ and books come alive.

Beauty and the Beast at the Swansea Grand Theatre has all the ingredients of a winning Christmas pantomime, promising and delivering fun for all the family, both young and old.

This year’s panto is showing until Sunday, 15 January 2023, with relaxed and signed performances on select dates. Tickets available from £15.

To find out more and book tickets, visit the Swansea Grand Theatre website here.