Beauty and The Beast panto gets underway at Groundlings Theatre
Beauty and The Beast is the first traditional panto at The Groundlings Theatre since the trust running the venue took over in early 2020.
Last December they put on a production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which, like many other shows was cut short by changing Covid rules.
The show began earlier this month and Laura Owens, the trust’s events co-ordinator says: ‘We're in the full swing of it now and it's been going down really well, the feedback's been amazing.
‘The general atmosphere in the audiences has been brilliant and the kids are loving it,
‘Obviously there's lots of jokes and references in there for the adults too, and then there's a bit of audience participation at the end – we've got kids up on stage and they love it.’
After last year’s aborted run, the trust planned to ‘ come back bigger and better than ever,’ in 2021.
Laura says: ‘We've completely produced it ourselves, and we're a small team. The script was written here, it's directed by our team, our choreographer and music director work really closely with us and have done for a long time. It's all being managed in-house.’
And there’s a bit of a homecoming for one of the show's stars who finished acting school in East London last year.
‘Our leading lady Phoebe Saunders, who's playing Belle, is from Portsmouth, and has been involved with the theatre going back several years, in our drama school and in previous productions, so it's nice that she's now back as a professional.
‘The rest of the cast we've brought in – a couple of them are semi-local, and the rest are pros who have come in from all around the country.’
As to why they plumped for Beauty and The Beast, Laura explains: ‘We wanted to go down a route that's not often done in panto.
‘We've done all the big classics like Cinderella, and Jack and The Beanstalk was our last panto. Beauty and The Beast isn't necessarily a traditional panto you see a lot, although there are a couple of other theatres across the country doing it this year.
‘It just seemed like a different avenue to pursue, and it's a popular story with the kids because there's the Disney version that's out there, but it's hopefully something people won't have seen in panto before.’
Seating in the theatre will also be cabaret style.
‘We've kept it with the tables and chairs – the general feedback from our customers is that they like it like that. It feels really intimate, the family all get together around the table, and they can have their snacks and drinks out.
‘It just gives it a really different feel to your regular rows.’
The trust also wants to allay any fears that they are closing in light of recent news that the building itself is on the market.
Laura says: ‘Word has got out that the building is up for sale but we have nine years remaining on our lease, so we'll be operating as a theatre for at least that long!
‘Who knows what can happen in that time, but we plan on being here for a long time yet.
‘Sadly, a lot of people think, “oh no, it's shutting down,” but even if the building does sell, we'll be here for a long time to come.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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