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  • Sophie Walker

★★★★★ REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast, 2023 Pantomime at the Lyceum

Photography by Sam Taylor

It’s the festive season, and you know what that means - Panto!

Writer and director, Paul Hendy has smashed it again with another year of Sheffield’s annual pantomime at the Lyceum. Telling the classic tale of the intelligent, empowered woman seeing the good in a monster and lifting a powerful curse with the power of love, Beauty and the Beast came into Yorkshire with a dazzling bang last week. 

With the infamous Damian Williams back in Sheffield for his 16th year as the Dame, alongside his comedic cohorts of Duncan James as Danton, Max Fulham as Phillipe, and Jennie Dale as Cupid, not an eye in the audience was dry from laughter. 

Photography by Sam Taylor

Telling the story of Beauty and the Beast (in its own way), the show was completely interactive, fun, and perfect for all audiences, especially those in Yorkshire. With a modern, hilarious script, referencing local football rivalries, pop culture, and ripping on other towns in Yorkshire, the story of Beauty and the Beast sat as the supporting background for the comedic duo of Madame Bellie Fillop (Damian Williams) and Phillipe Fillop (Max Fulham). The classic fairytale’s serious tones were at the perfect ratio to the overlying comedy of the panto. Hendy’s efforts in keeping the jokes relevant to the audience and trends were evident and had the desired effect. The conscious choice to use references and jokes that resonate with audiences in Sheffield and Yorkshire made it more personal and that much more interactive. 

Going into the pantomime, I didn’t really have any expectations, but it was still unlike anything I imagined it would be and blew me away. While it loosely followed the plot of Beauty and the Beast, the story wasn’t the main source of entertainment - it was everything surrounding it. Its consecutive parts (audience interaction, set, music, lighting, costumes, singing, acting, jokes, story) combined beautifully to make the whole, merry experience.

From the get-go, the audience was included in the jokes and cast interactions, from Cupid’s (Jennie Dale) entrance and joining Phillipe’s band, to Madame Bellie (as Barbie) picking out her perfect Ken in the audience. Lucky Richard, and lucky us for being able to witness his special kazoo performance at the end!

The entire stage and the seating areas were utilised by the cast, even making sure the wolves sprayed people in every row with water (thankfully we didn’t get the worst of it). Not to mention the cream that would’ve fallen on the front row from an ice cream making gag. It’s not a pantomime without a bit of mess getting on the audience!

Besides the interactive fun, the viewing experience was phenomenal. The production team did an incredible job in putting the set together, perfected with lighting and effects to feel as immersive as can be. It felt like staring into the storybook. And the music! I did not know from the beginning that the band was playing right there in the auditorium. When I did notice, I was awed. Alex Turney (Musical Director), Seb Williman (Trumpet), Steve Foster (Saxophone), Laura Browne (Guitar) and Liam McCloud (Drums) did a brilliant job together in timing the music, adding to the atmosphere, the comedy and enhancing the musical numbers. 

Each and every member of the cast had a beautiful voice, belting and dancing the most fitting songs for their characters and situations, which gave much insight to their characters and aided development. While Belle’s (Bessy Ewa) numbers were determined, positive, upbeat, where you could dance along, the Beast’s (Aidan Banyard) were melancholy and absolutely mesmerising in comparison, where you sat and let it wash over you. The ability to perform such moving scenes when he couldn’t see much through the Beast mask is a talent in itself!

Photography by Sam Taylor

Contrasting both of their scenes was Danton’s (Duncan James) performances beginning as obnoxious and arrogant, to funny, likeable and pitiable - no other character would’ve fit the ‘I’m Just Ken’ performance quite like Danton. To see a horribly arrogant character like Gaston made respectful and self-aware through Danton was quite a shock - he was actually likeable!

Speaking of Ken and pleasant surprises, the dramatic entrance of legend, Damian Williams, onto the stage as Barbie, with the swimsuit looking exactly like the film costuming, was a delight. The slight teaser of what was coming with the song ‘Dance The Night,’ to reveal Madame Bellie was exciting as an audience member who loved Barbie. As was anticipating the next extravagant outfit Damian Williams would come out in. Michael J Batchelor’s (Costume Designer) Dame costumes were a sight to behold! Starting off strong with Barbie, there were a variation of unique, quirky getups for the Dame to explore - chef, Mad Hatter, a walking traffic cone. Each was more bizarre than the last, but left the audience excited for the next. 

All of the cast members harmonised excellently on stage, during their performances, dances, and songs. The ensemble (Ronnie Burden, Luke Cartledge, Hollie Duncan, Lavinia Mai, Shona Masson and Rhys Wyn Owen) did a wonderful job in playing a variety of interesting and unique characters, providing background, plot and character development, and beautiful backing vocals and choreography. 

Photography by Sam Taylor

Each performer on stage, each element on and around the stage, and each crew member that contributed to the show, worked together melodiously to create the magic that was Beauty and the Beast at the Lyceum, Sheffield. 

It was an incredibly jolly, festive experience of people of all ages coming together to shout to the stage and boo at references to Sheffield Wednesday and cheer at United. 


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