You’ve, quite honestly, never seen Beauty and the Beast like this. A surprising thing to be able to say about a Christmas pantomime, maybe, but this really is a performance that could’ve only truly existed in 2020.
This performance is as much about about Covid, Tik-Tok and social distancing as it is Belle, the Beast and Gaston. The original story is still there, somewhere, however it’s been hidden between an almost vaudevillian variety show of various references to this bizarre year.
This is not a complaint. In fact, it is when it’s at its most absurd that the show truly shines. Of course, the acting is great, and the more traditional elements of the story are all there, but I’m sure most people are much more likely to leave discussing the surprisingly excellent, original parody of “Baby It’s Covid Outside.”
And the absurdity does not stop there. It is fair to say that, even with my admittedly foggy memory, this is the only production of Beauty and the Beast I have ever seen that features a Borat reference. Twice.
Should it work when the members of the cast decide to spend 10 minutes doing TikTok dances to various popular songs, including the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, at a family friendly Christmas pantomime? Probably not, but adults and children alike were standing up and dancing along.
The strangeness continued throughout the show. There were cast members using hand sanitizer built into the sets, one character specifically to be the Prince’s (French?) Covid Manager, song lyrics changed to include the 2 metre rule, and to top it all off, a truly bizarre performance of ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas – Covid Edition’.
It should also be pointed out, on a more serious note, the social distancing exhibited throughout the performance was fantastic. For anyone worried about going, fear not. The audience was spread out well, one-way systems were implemented all over the venue, food and drink could easily be ordered to your seat, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer.
For those looking for something light and easy, but not ignorant to all the oddities of this year, this is the show for you. It’s very weird, slightly meta, and made myself and my friend often feel like we really were living in some sort of simulation, but we left smiling nonetheless. It was great to see some live entertainment again, and there’s a lot to love here for people of all ages.
A strangely brilliant way to start the Christmas holidays.
Beauty and the Beast
St Helens Theatre Royal
Until Sunday 3rd January
Written by Jamie Tichborne