Beauty and the Beast review – precision engineered panto

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It is tempting to grumble about the supposed spontaneity of this ebullient mainstage panto. Kathryn Rooney’s production is so finely tuned that everything – from the foreign visitors in the box to the late arrivals in the stalls and the onstage collision with a swinging door – is planned and executed with breathless precision.

In one sense this is a shame. If improvisation is genuinely called for, as it is when actor Johnny Mac invites four children on to the stage to sing a variant of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, he is brilliant at it. Unfazed by the unpredictability, he makes his seven-year-old recruits laugh and the audience laugh harder – not necessarily at the same joke. He makes himself seem all the more lovable.

Of course, it would be tremendous to see more of that, but what is impressive about a cast led by Mac and Elaine C Smith is their ability to rise above the formula. However closely Alan McHugh’s script sticks to the Crossroads Pantomimes blueprint, however much they pretend to corpse or fake the adlibs, they win you over with commitment and heart.

In a show that is aware of the Disney blockbuster but not beholden to it, McHugh takes us to Clydeside-sur-le-Mer where Smith and Mac have a rare day off from their work in the castle. There, the Beast (Calum McElroy) is joined by Belle (Blythe Jandoo), her brother Shuggie (Darren Brownlie) and pretty much anyone else who fancies calling by. It ticks off the plot points efficiently, if not exactly movingly, focusing primarily on the comic banter, the lavish dance routines and, as ever, Smith’s prowess as a singer. It is as entertaining as it is slick.

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