As the all-singing, all-dancing pantomime crew performed their first number in Beauty and The Beast, complete with animals, villagers, the evil Witch Kardashia, her snarling sidekick Slick Rick, and Dame Potts, one would never know the undercurrents that have been sweeping the Oxford Playhouse in the past two weeks.
Because the intended dame, the beloved Paul Barnhill, who has entertained us on this very stage for the past few Christmases with such mastery, took ill just a few hours before the first performance, was signed off for the entire run, and another had to be found.
With a Cinderella-esque fervour, that matched any pantomime plot, the country was swept for a suitable candidate, not only ready to take up the Oxford Playhouse stellar role, but match it with gusto.
Philip Pellew dived in to save the show and despite starting on the back foot has joined the cast on its journey to save Beauty from The Beast and then foil Witch Kardashia’s attempts for world domination.
Not being one of the celebrated seven traditional pantomimes meant director Steve Marmion could unleash a dazzling array of unexpected stagecraft from a huge walking giant to a singing orangutang (why not), a melon-fest and tap-dancing on an unsuspecting audience, as the story unfolded with original songs, raps and a fabulous dad dance provided by two unsuspecting members of the audience, that had us all in stitches.
The teapot character of Dame Potts displayed the usual eye-watering array of wonderful costumes, as every tea-based pun known to man was offered up, if slightly lost on the young audience.
And as the Mayor was turned into a fox by the evil Witch Kardashia (Dev Joshi), we begun to suspect that the huge selection of accompanying animals might be part of a dastardly plot to unhinge The Beast before his time was up, and foil any plans for his redemption.
Luckily Belle (Roseanna Frascona) was on hand to steer the villagers away from their mass mob mentality, which included her own father Endo (Stephen Hoo), just in time to unleash the very handsome real prince (Matthew Staite) from his huge hairy costume to demonstrate that real love can prevail at a time when the audience needs a happy ending the most.
More schmaltz than substance perhaps, with some unusual turns and twists, (carrots in Swindon anyone?), this is Beauty and The Beast as you’ve never seen it before, with plenty of unashamedly juvenile silliness.
Beauty and The Beast is on until Jan 12. 01865 305305.