(Full Review from Sue Goodman of the Gazette)

Wow!  The Wayfarers are back at the Brewhouse, and better than ever.  “Beauty and the Beast” isn’t a traditional pantomime, and this production, under Brian Epps’ inspired direction, uses both traditional and modern elements to create a wonderful show.

The evening fizzed with energy from start to finish.  Everyone on stage knew exactly what they were doing, and gave it all they’d got, which was plenty.  Special praise must go to the young TWYGs – you know who you are, and all your applause was very well deserved.

We expect a pantomime to be filled with romance, comedy, music, magic, jokes new and old, inventive business and impressive special effects.  This show delivered on all points.  The principals were all strong, working well together in ensemble scenes.  As Belle and her Prince, Kim Barnard and James Venning, looked the part, sang beautifully and moved well;  the Prince’s alter ego, the Beast, was movingly portrayed by Andy Cooper, who also has a fine singing voice – his duet with Belle was a highlight.

Stuart Lloyd gave a splendidly traditional Madame Fifi, full of fun and good clean smut, and I lost count of the number of wigs he got through.  He even nonchalantly managed his slipping microphone pack while staying in character (one of the very few technical hitches occurring on stage).  Nick Whyborn’s Elvis-inspired Gustave, Chris Holman’s outrageously camp Marcel and a very acrobatic Jacques from Dan Woodmason took comic silver in this show, but comedy gold goes to the ugly sisters – Rosie Taylor and Emma Jones as a terrible teenage twosome with ghastly (but very funny) accents somewhere between Bristol and Bridgwater, and no inhibitions at all.

Magic and spells came courtesy of Anna Howe as Flora and Val Wright as the sinister Belladonna, intent on wrecking the plot – nasty is always more dramatic than nice, but never wins.  Excellent cameos from Ray Jarvis as the unpleasant M. Le Fou, Steve Lukins as Belle’s father, Alphonse, and Amber Samuel as Essex girl Monique, gave depth and added dimensions to the ensemble.

Musically, MD Matthew Holmes presented a series of memorable numbers, some well-known, others less so.  He used both live instrumentalists and recorded backing tracks, seamlessly integrated.  All the principals sang with panache, and the chorus sound was especially bright and keen.  The dance numbers, choreographed by Sheila Driver, were of a very high standard.  No-one, even the youngest, put a foot (or a hand) wrong, no-one flagged and there were no ragged moments or wobbles.  Even the boys danced as well as the girls – an unusual and very welcome sight!

Sets and costumes were gorgeous – as we have come to expect – lighting effects were dramatic, and mishaps were few.  We were left in the dark for perhaps a few moments longer than necessary for scene changes, but this is a small price to pay for such a brilliantly complex show.

Overall – an undoubted triumph!  The Wayfarers are performing at a higher standard than I’ve ever seen them, and I wish them every success for the rest of the run and future shows.

Sue Goodman