A thing of beauty with a baddie who's just beastly

LIVING up to its name, Eden Court's seasonal offering is a thing of beauty, with high production values and a glittering set which is lovely. But in the end that does not count for much if the human elements are below par. Fortunately they are not.

Under the guidance of panto specialists Imagine Theatre, the Eden Court panto moved up a notch or two with last year's "Jack and The Beanstalk" and their second slick production shows no sign of letting that quality lapse.

No "biggest giant in Pantoland" this year of course, but there was another impressive special effect showpiece involving dancing skeletons, while the Beast himself introduced at first as just a pair of evil red eyes was a fearsome spectacle in his flowing robes and scary make-up.

Straight into the story with no messing, the curse turning handsome prince into horrid Beast is quickly dispensed with, giving room for the comedy routines.

It was up to Tom Freeman, as Beauty's hapless admirer Willy Do-it, to break the ice with the audience, getting them it the mood for a bit of participation with mass soft rock style power punches. He formed a great team with Iain Lauchlan making a welcome return as Dame.

Given to wearing a succession of ludicrous costumes, beginning with one patterned after a well-known brand of washing up liquid, none of them fitted Lauchlan as well as ?the part. Even the most groanworthy of one-liners was punctuated with a cheeky little laugh and he gave every impression he was having a ball, even or perhaps especially when experiencing an on-stage wig malfunction or being upstaged by a pair of endearing pre-schoolers.

Every panto also needs a baddy you love to hate. Making a good mailed fist of that is Martin McCormack as Eugene, a character whose gap between ego and ability is so vast he would be a natural candidate for television's "The Apprentice".

Having some of Jim Carrey's manic qualities with the important qualification that Eugene is actually meant to be annoying McCormack reveals himself to be something of a swashbuckler at heart in his final duel against the Beast, with his fancy fencing and dives across the stage.

Being the bad guy, though, he inevitably has to do something sneaky and get his well-deserved comeuppance.

Backing him up is Lee Samuel as Pimple, a bad guy as inept as his boss but a whole lot more loveable.Forming the backbone of the story to let the more overtly comic characters get on with the important work of getting laughs were Jimmy Chisholm, layering on his native Inverness accent a bit more thickly for his hometown audience, and Ashley Bruce as Beauty, acquitting herself well in her first professional role since leaving acting school and looking every inch the title part.

Mind you, it was hard to resist the thought that she would have been better off sticking with Sion Lloyd's charismatic if moody Beast than the rather fey post-transformation prince she is saddled with at the end of a show that will leave everyone laughing even that poor mug who got gunged on stage, whoever he was.


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