REVIEW: Polegate Drama Group’s panto is “gold standard”

Polegate Drama Group in Beauty And The Beast
Polegate Drama Group in Beauty And The Beast
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At the Devonshire Park, Dick Whittington may have left the building - but there is still time to catch a local panto. And Polegate’s Beauty and the Beast truly is beautiful.

Gloomy January? Post-Christmas depression? Don’t believe it. The panto season lights up your New Year! Actually, from Aladdin in Hailsham, to Willingdon’s Cinderella, to Puss in Boots at All Saints, home-grown productions are still delighting local audiences throughout January - and as ever, Polegate Drama Group is the gold standard.

The group celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, and the second half-century opens with a lovely offering. Beauty and the Beast - running until Sunday 21st at the Windsor Centre - is the complete package: lively song and dance, wincingly painful comedy, great sets, fabulous costumes. And of course, a story.

Ironically, the story here is almost too strong for the vehicle of pantomime. That powerful moral, that true beauty is on the inside as well as the outside, is poignant and very moving - and it sits slightly uneasily alongside slapstick comedy and awful puns.

That, of course, is no criticism of this production. Directors Sue Wood - who also choreographs - and Cris Haniver handle the balance expertly, and all the front-cloth comedy remains great fun without destroying the magic of Belle’s story. In the title role, Heather Tingley is a delight: she is a perfect blend of the brave and the vulnerable, and she sings beautifully.

Opposite Heather, Warren Goddard is both stylish Prince and heart-rending Beast - the latter’s voice reverberating in anguish from within a magnificent costume. The show indeed is stunningly dressed, thanks to some enterprising costume hire from Eastbourne Theatres. Dame Chris Thompson, outrageous and utterly splendiferous, will be auditioning for Martyn Knight’s role at this rate. A hilarious Laura Catchpole is hapless son Jacques.

A cast of twenty gives fine support, with notable performances from Hope-Marie Henderson as Gustave and from Ronnie Boyce-Stevens and Mandy Brown as the Ugly Sisters - wrong panto, but never mind! Michelle Radley directs as five-piece live band with bright professionalism, and if there is any reservation on the music, it’s that several smashing vocal numbers are a wee bit too short! Hope’s I’m So Vain and the Beast’s Music of the Night deserve more than 16 bars each.

Chorus singing, wisely enhanced by some backing tracks, is really excellent this year - a true wall of sound. And the Sue Wood dancers are absolutely immaculate.

As always at Polegate, this is a real team effort. Under Ryan Tate’s direction, scene-builders have been busy since October on the splendid sets, effects of sound and lighting are breathtaking, and a whole army of helpers, from crew to chaperones, make this show a true community production. Yep, the pantomime season is still in full swing, and Polegate leads the way as ever. By Kevin Anderson.

Polegate Drama Group will perform Beauty And The Beast at Polegate Community Centre until the matinee on Sunday January 21 at 2pm. There is a performance tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm, and on Saturday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are still available for all shows and cost £10 for adults and £6.50 for children from www.ticketsource.co.uk - for more information visit polegatedramagroup.com.