Home grown panto at Poole’s Lighthouse proves such a beautiful beast of a show

Chris Jarvis as Dame Betty Bonbon and Michelle Collins as the wicked Nightshade

Beauty and the Beast, Lighthouse, Poole

Magnifique! Fantastique! Ooh la la! Panto has returned to Lighthouse in Poole. This magical version of Beauty and the Beast has a decidedly Gallic flavour, is the first Lighthouse panto produced entirely in-house and it works like a dream.

Under the assured direction of its writer and star – Cbeebies legend Chris Jarvis – we find the time-honoured fairytale shuttling gloriously between Paris and Dorset.

With music and dance that starts with the La Marseillaise-tinged All You Need is Love and ends with a joyous can can, it is a marvellously family friendly production whic tells  of beautiful Belle (Alice Rose Fletcher) and the handsome Prince Valentin (Wade Lewin).  Brought together by Cupid (an excellent Tom Mann) they are cursed by evil enchantress Nightshade played with relish amid a hail of boos and hisses by soap star Michelle Collins.

With the couple banished to a haunted castle and Valentin turned into a hideous beast, it is down to Belle’s father, Marzipan (Ross Ericson), her sister Souffle (Georgia Grant-Anderson) and Chris Jarvis’s wonderful Dame, Betty Bonbons, to rescue them.

Their mission finds them battling with adversity, coping with cheerful chaos and, with  assistance from Cupid, helping true love finally  battle over evil. With the Prince and Belle freed from Nightshade’s curse, Betty Bonbon getting together with Marzipan and the sulphurously horrible Nightshade suddenly turned into a goody two shoes, there is nothing not to love.

It’s a great pantomime with a very strong cast and full of traditional slapstick and sass, including a riotous prop-laden 12 days of Christmas. There’s a contemporary twist or two and loads of topical humour and music. It’s a covid safe theatre too with state of the art air-con and strict protocols in place.

Chris Jarvis has been playing panto for nearly 30 years and it shows. He is a master of the craft and a brilliant children’s entertainer. Better still, after decades of playing Buttons, Simple Simon or Jack, with a variety of beanstalks, he is now in his 50s and has decided the time has finally come to play the Dame. Believe me the flamboyant Betty Bonbon  has been worth waiting for.

Beauty and the Beast runs at Lighthouse, Poole,  until New Year’s Eve. Do yourself a favour and snap up  tickets for your family.

Jeremy Miles

EastEnders tough guy, a vision in purple, meets Bobby ‘Orange’ Crush. It must be panto!

What not to wear in the Queen Vic. EastEndders Scott Maslen as Abanazar. Picture by Hattie Miles
What not to wear in the Queen Vic. EastEndders Scott Maslen as Abanazar. Picture by Hattie Miles

My lunchtime companions yesterday were head-turning to say the least. One was a crazed seven foot tall laundry owner with bright orange hair, outrageous frock and a basket full of cleaning products on her head. Another was an EastEnders hunk in a get-up that suggested Star Wars had launched an attack on the Arabian Knights’ dressing up box. While the third was a professional cheeky chappy who had turned Chinese especially for the occasion.

Yes it’s panto press-call time again. That annual foray into gentle madness when the media get invited to meet (and photograph) the stars of the forthcoming local pantomime.  In previous years I have found myself being asked to hold Brian Cant’s wig, watched as Matthew Kelly in full piratical garb lent his hook to someone to for “technical reasons” and heard how Roy Hudd received a £6,000  bill after the private phone in his dressing room was accidentally confused with the main billing line for the entire local council.

Bobby Crush as Widow Twankey  Picture: Hattie Miles
Bobby Crush as Widow Twankey Picture: Hattie Miles

In this case  the pantomime is  Aladdin which will play the Bournemouth Pavilion from  Saturday 7th December until Sunday 5th of January. The principal stars were veteran entertainer and pianist Bobby Crush playing Dame – the inimitable Widow Twankey; Scott Maslen, who until very recently played Jack Branning in EastEnders, as the evil Abanazer and Cbeebies favourite Chris Jarvis as Wishee Washee.

Chris, who is also the show’s director and wrote the script, reckons his cast make a great team and all get on splendidly together. I can understand his enthusiasm. Unbridled bonhomie backstage isn’t always evident. However this bunch seemed to genuinely be having a good time as they posed for pictures and then gave lunchtime interviews to the attendant ‘meeja’.

Watch this space and several others to discover what great revelations were made. Hear how Scott is preparing to swap prime-time soap star adulation for the boos and hisses of outraged 10-year-olds. Learn what Bobby wears under his dress and how Chris, fed up with off-the-shelf adaptations, was determined to break the mould and write an all-new pantomime.

Chris Jarvis as Wishee Washee Picture: Hattie Miles
Chris Jarvis as Wishee Washee Picture: Hattie Miles

One little surprise for me was Bobby’s admission ( I didn’t ask he just suddenly blurted it out) that Orville the Duck pays his rent. Well some of it. For Bobby actually wrote Keith Harris and Orville’s early eighties hit Orville’s Song ( I Wish I Could Fly).

Now personally I’d keep quiet about something like that but Bobby told me: “I love the notoriety.” Ventriloquist Harris and his puppet released the song in December 1982. Irritating though it was it was incredibly successful that Christmas and peaked at number four in the charts in January 1983. “It ended up selling over 300,000 copies. I got a  silver disc.”

Just to put that into perspective those sales were achieved at a time when there was still a thriving singles market and the recording industry was in rude health. These days you can get into the top ten with sales of just 5,000 or 6,000. A 300,000 selling record in 2013 would be eligible for platinum disc status.  Quackers or what?

Bobby told me somewhat gleefully that Orville’s Song was recently voted one of the worst records to ever make the top ten. He doesn’t care. “ It’s money in the bank to me. It took me just five days to write  and my accountant says it was the best five days work I ever did because the royalties just keep coming in.”

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