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Review: Beauty and the Beast by Little Hadham Pantomime Group

Little Hadham Pantomime Group was started almost half a century ago by the village doctor's wife, Margaret Elder, who staged the first production, Cinderella, at Hadham Hall in 1971.

The village hall became the panto venue when it opened in 1973, and a show has been produced there every year since, with the exception of 2002, when much of the village was hit by floods.

That tradition continued this year when the usual array of familiar faces and new blood came together for Beauty and the Beast.

The opening number (28443312)
The opening number (28443312)

I saw the last of seven performances staged over the last two weekends in January. Rarely, if ever, in its 49-year history can I imagine LHPG having punched so far above its weight.

This was a village hall panto that not only looked amazing but came complete with video effects, including (spoiler alert) the Beast's climactic transformation.

Director Sue Wetherall's vision of the venue being transformed into the French village of Nouveau Chateau ('Newcastle') and its environs was spectacularly realised through the endeavours of a production team that deserves full credit.

The stage sets – built and painted by Jon Fardell, Neil Oxborrow and Callum Neill, and lit to great effect by Will Jamieson and young Callum – set the standard which was matched by the witty, imaginative and vivid costumes and props, most notably in the scene involving three characters dressed as a teabag, a toilet and a Philippe screwdriver.

The colour on stage was equalled by Tom Whalley's professional script, which was littered with gags, puns and innuendo that went down well with the capacity audience, who played their part on the last night.

The comedy was safe in the capable and talented hands of principal mirth merchants Darrell Williams as softy Brie, Anne Senior as wicked witch Sacré Bleu and Little Hadham panto stalwart Paul Haimes as dame Nanny Night Nurse.

The director revealed her years of experience by astute casting of three key pairs: Sophie Mardell and Peter Rosborough as the eponymous Belle and Prince Claude, Anthony Clarke and Richard Mardell as Gaston and sidekick Lefou, and Marge Ellis and Colin Howard as the Beast's castle kitchen inhabitants Salé and Poivre (Salt Cellar and Pepper Mill).

Colin Brookbanks was suitably endearing as Belle's papa, crackpot inventor Professor Philippe, Jill Oxborrow was in fine voice as Forchette the fork while young Kyle Callaghan-Gleeson was stirred into action as Cuillere the teaspoon. Gill Stigwood – whose costume hire business, The Costume Workshop, in the village was put to good use – completed the main cast as Spirit of the Mirror.

Six young members of Bishop's Stortford's Jenny Myhill School of Dance – Annabelle Jackson, Chloe Rankin, Lorelei Robson, Leah Sanders, Ava Wilding and Maisie Wood – got their chance in the stage spotlight and did not disappoint.

Live musical accompaniment was provided by the trio of music director Colin Fludgate on piano, drummer David Locke and guitarist Guy Snape.

The one aspect where there was room for improvement was the chorus, which collectively did not match the oomph of most of the main cast and the production values.

Stage shows are always a team effort – epitomised by the fact that Peter 'The Beast' Rosborough's credits also included props, make-up and programme – and with 67 names listed among the cast, chorus and back-stage and front-of-house crews, this was one beast of a team. Director Sue Wetherall deserves huge plaudits for marshalling them all to such stunning effect.

There was a palpable sense on that last Saturday night of the community coming together to stage and support a show for the sole purpose of lifting the soul – and that was the real beauty.

Review: Paul Winspear. Pictures: Mark Edwards

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