Review: Rock’n’Roll Beauty & the Beast At Leeds City Varieties

Thursday 2nd December 2021 at Leeds City Varieties


Panto season is back! Oooooh yes it is (sorry, but we all know it has to be done). There’s a reason the City Varieties panto has such a stellar word-of-mouth reputation: it’s just so much fun, and this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll panto, Beauty and the Beast, doesn’t disappoint.

Peter Rowe’s Rock ‘n’ Roll take on Beauty and the Beast has everything it needs to be a winner: a talented cast, plenty of comedy, a big heart and an impressive catalogue of musical numbers. It’s a jolly jaunt which hinges all its key moments on boppy hits like “Moves Like Jagger”, “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Get the Party Started”, or heart songs like “You’ve Got a Friend” and possibly the show’s musical highlight: a brilliantly performed “Somebody to Love” which involves the whole cast – human and animal alike. If I tell you that 18 songs are packed in here, and not a one of them is a stranger to radio stations, you’ll get a sense of the crowd-pleasing, high energy entertainment on offer.

Despite its mildly unconventional leanings as a “Rock’n’Roll” take on the festive genre, no one is short-changed here, and that’s the real beauty of Rowe’s creation. If you like your heroines sweet and pure and played with total sincerity, you can feast your heart on Grace Lancaster’s super sweet Beauty. If you like a posturing prince type who’s more tongue-in-cheek (and raised eyebrow) than most, Conor Mellor’s comi-sincere Beast fits the bill.

Eager to see a bouncy narrator skipping us along with rhymes and glitter? Lana Walker is your lass. Like your almost-villains and “sensible” types played large, loud and laughable? Kenny Davies, Hannah Price and Hannah Baker have your back as the high-energy Beauregard family. Plonkers with heart you say? Alice Gruden and Tim Roberts provide a nice bit of mischief as Primp and Preen here, and then of course we have the adorable numbskull-scamp, Desperate Dan, played with perfect panto spirit by James William-Pattison. What more could you want? Well…

How about a superb, infectiously-fun Dame? It will surprise precisely no one who has been to see this merry band and their pantos previously that Simon Nock triumphs once more as one of the best damn Dames around: Dame Bessie Bigbreaths (this year) – many would call her “top notch” I’m sure, and she’d have a naughty joke at the ready to reward us for such high praise. In truth, there’s a lot of “presence” out there, particularly during panto season, but it’s not too often that we get a chance to see relish in human form on a stage, and yet here it is in the shape of Nock: full of mischief and energy and always ready with some top tier audience rapport.

The final string to this bow is that all music is played live by our actor-musicians. Rob Salmon knows how to ensure we’re impressed with this charismatic troupe through direction which smoothly shifts focus between main stage antics and up-stage band shenanigans. Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography offers us a nice blend of modern and old-school sequences while Tim Oliver’s fabulous lighting takes us everywhere from an abandoned castle to something resembling a Robbie Williams concert and back again. There’s no need for sky high, high tech bells and whistles here – this is a show which leans confidently on the talents of its cast, and happily and deservedly succeeds as a result of that faith. Go see!

Rock’n’Roll Beauty and the Beast plays Leeds City Varieties until January 9th 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

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