Once upon a time, Alison Knott, director and actress at Chester Theatre Club, read a play script in Chester Library.
As Alison read, the script spun its magic and visualising its exciting impact on Chester audiences, Alison could not put it down.
The play was a new version of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast, reworked as an adult pantomime by Lucy Kirkwood.
Alison quickly decided this play would be her next project at Chester’s Little Theatre and also a thrilling new departure for the club.
Casting, rehearsals and set-building followed. Then, all last week, Beauty and The Beast enthralled its audiences.
It’s a well-loved story. We know it well. Fairy turns Prince into Beast, superbly played by a hirsute four-legged Tony O’Byrne, who stuns us with magnificent growls, roars and countless athletic leaps on to tables and chairs.
And after many twists in Kirkwood’s plot, Beauty (pretty Leah Bell) falls in love with Beast.
Kirkwood certainly created memorable characters. There’s the eccentric Man in Pink (Tony Kemp on great form) who narrates the story front of stage, with Cecile, his French assistant (Charlie Nunez, with seductive accent and satin dresses).
Also there’s great support from Kat Holmes (sister Lettice), Colin Banks (Father), Dharma Funge (Young Beauty), Alison herself (Mother), and Will Burton (George aka The Prince). And Peter Russell is most endearing as a constantly helpful Rabbit.
Special mention must be made of the special effects created. There was shadow puppetry, a time-defying magic mirror, a dumb waiter which made wishes come true, and the amazing Thought-Snatcher, which not only allowed us access to characters’ thoughts and, it must be said, even into the brains of some of the audience, but also made tea.
The set itself (designed by Tony Kemp) was fairytale stuff, as was the varied choice of music (including an insect orchestra…yes, really!) plus stunning lighting used to great effect.
This was a fun production, deserving many accolades. But it’s to be hoped that growling Beast Tony has plenty of throat sweets to suck!