Beauty and the Beast
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Harlow Playhouse
Cast: Ben Parsley, Jimmy Burton Iles, Danny Becker, Kellie Gnauck, Joanna O'Hare and Sam Toland

When the Prince is cursed to live as a Beast in a magical Castle, his only hope is to find love before the last petal falls! Will the beautiful Belle be the chance he has been waiting for? Will Silly Billy (Ben Parsley) be able to help save the day from the wicked Queen of the Wolves, and will Madame Cherry Bon Bon (Jimmy Burton Iles) finally find her new man?!

This tale, as old as time, will have everything you have come to expect from a Harlow Playhouse Pantomime.

It never truly feels like the festive season without an annual visit to a pantomime, and it's safe to say that after seeing Beauty and the Beast, I'm completely full of Christmas joy. Harlow Playhouse's pantomime has been my choice for a few years now and if you take a visit this year, I'm sure you'll understand why. KD Theatre Productions continually capture the magic of pantomime in a way that's both modern, but keeps the traditional values of panto at it's core.

Like all panto, it's target audience is clearly children, but Beauty and the Beast is fun for all the family. Breakdancing, adult jokes (that will no doubt soar over children's heads), dancing wolves and a finale worthy of a West End stage; this production has it all

Harlow pantomime regulars, Ben Parsley and Jimmy Burton-Iles, were among my family's favourites, and it seemed the audiences too. After both being a part of the Harlow Christmas panto celebrations for so many years, it's clear to see why they return time and time again. Their comedic timing and audience interaction is unmatched and done so with ease.

However, my standout performer of the evening was Sam Toland (Book of Mormon) as the irresistibly egotistical, Gastrong. Despite his overbearing narcissism, it's impossible not to fall in love with the character and his laugh-out-loud one-liners. The exercise mash-up scene of I'm Too Sexy and I'm Sexy and I Know It was just ridiculously brilliant.

The song choices for the evening (and the talent performing them) were simply stunning. I particularly enjoyed Bad Wolves, Confident, All I Ask and the musical theatre favourite, Come What May, from Moulin Rouge. However, the highlight was the sensationally staged "I Will Prevail" from Frank Wildhorn' "Wonderland", complete with snow storm onstage, and in the audience.

Choreographer, Claire Cassidy, seamlessly incorporates many dance styles into the production and there's something for every age. The wolves, in particular, were magnetising to watch and it's easy to forget you're simply watching the ensemble in costume.

I think it's more important now than ever to support your local theatre, and if you're local to Harlow, I couldn't recommend this pantomime more. The ever-changing sets from Scenic Projects and wonderfully camp costumes from James Maciver, Barbara Hollingum and Mercury Colchester were outstanding and complimented the pantomime well.

Once again, Harlow has created a pantomime that is worthy of the West End. Full of fun, Christmas spirit, and unmatched talent. If you're looking for "adventure in the great wide somewhere", choose Beauty and the Beast this year. It's the perfect happily ever after for all the family. (It's Christmas, I can use all the puns, right?)

You can book tickets to see Beauty and the Beast at Harlow Playhouse, here.

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