Oxford Playhouse’s Beauty and the Beast, written and directed by Steve Marmion, once again serves up all the beloved elements of traditional panto with a generous dollop of pop culture.
In Marmion’s version of the story, the Prince has been transformed into a beast by evil Witch Kardashia (Dev Joshi), who has also cursed the village of Ox-le-ford so nothing can grow. When Udo the Inventor is captured by Beast, Belle bravely volunteers to take her father’s place.
Belle (Roseanna Frascona) has a heart of gold and nerves of steel. She gives Witch Kardashia’s sidekick Slick Rick, a deliciously slimy Ed Kingsley, short shrift when he asks her on a date. The first half ends with a spirited rendition of Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’, in which Belle vows, “I’ll end the patriarchal fallacy”, as she sets out to the Beast’s castle.
Often it seems like the songs are determining the direction of the show rather than the story. For instance, a whole subplot about the mayor being turned into a fox is included in order to set up a rendition of ‘What Does The Fox Say?’.
Nonetheless, the commitment of the ensemble, led by the magnetic Daisy Elwins, make these musical numbers the highlight of the production. The ensemble is dressed as animals and a magic tea set, and the costumes, designed by Amanda Hambleton, create the impression of a fairy-tale world.
Although the final resolution feels a little rushed, Beauty and the Beast delivers a satisfyingly moral and heart-warming ending.