I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
The Croydon Parish Players are an amateur theatre group who began in 1956. Each year they put on a major production, including recent productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (2017) and Hairspray (2016). This year is a production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The Croydon Parish Players productions are always of a very high standard, in performance, set design and music. This year is no exception.
The show stars Lauren Murtagh as Belle, Stephen Mees as the Beast and Dustin White as Gaston and is directed by Annie McDowell.
The show features a large ensemble cast with many regular faces from previous productions. There is a strong group of male performers within the ensemble, something that is not always easy to obtain (I say this as a high school music teacher who consistently has to work hard to get male involvement in our theatre shows). The ensemble group as a whole is very talented and clearly dedicated to their parts. Every actor is focused, no matter how important their role, and the full chorus production numbers were the strongest performances of the show. It was enjoyable to watch the cast members who were not the focal point continue to hold their character and remain interesting to watch. The comedic timing of the entire cast was exceptional and brought the audience along for the ride. The dancing, including the fight in the castle (hilariously staged) involving the whole cast, was brilliantly choreographed by Kacey Hocking.
The lead cast all give fantastic performances, but for me, Leon Walshe as Lumiere was a standout throughout the night. His character is such an important one within the story because, let's face it, the Beast and Belle's storyline can be a little dull across the lengthy running time, so the supporting characters are vital. The casting of actors was successful, with Lauren Murtagh showing strong skills as both an actor and singer, working well as Belle against Stephen Mees' angry Beast. The actors successfully presented Belle as sweet and kind with an underlying toughness, whilst the Beast was mean, intimidating and violent, but with underlying insecurities and frailty. Dustin White was clearly enjoying himself as he chewed up the scenery as Gaston, supported in equal measure by Kathryn White as Lefou.
The set was designed around a rotating set of stairs, which were thoughtfully and skilfully constructed, allowing characters to "move" around the castle without requiring big set changes. Whilst much of the stage had simple scenery and props, the design left lots of room for the large ensemble to move around, whilst the lighting did the rest. The costumes were very innovative and impressive. One of the highlights of seeing any production of Beauty and the Beast is seeing how each company tackles the 'part human' characters and their further transformations into objects. The supporting leads, such as Madame de la Grand Bouche, Lumiere and Gogsworth (despite a slight costume malfunction) had particularly innovative costumes and helped to fortify the illusion of theatre.
Conducted by musical director Jenn Walter Musically, the band was strong playing a challenging score. The standard remained throughout the long running time but I imagine the band would have been quite tired by the end of the show.
Weaknesses in the show were few and far between. A couple of the songs challenged the actors with difficult melodic phrases, especially when acting out the scene at the same time. It took a little while for all the elements of the show to all settle and feel comfortable, but around a quarter of the way through, everything really came together. Occasionally, the microphones, as is often the case with live shows, weren't on when they needed to be, but the cast never let that bother them and their strong projection of their lines covered many of these issues. I'm sure that technical issues will only get better with each show. Visually I couldn't always see the focus area on the stage, as the cast blocked my view when there were many on the stage, but if you're sitting back a few rows, that shouldn't be a problem. It certainly didn't bother me.
The production has three more shows this coming week: Thursday 11th, Friday 12th (both 8pm) and Saturday 13th (5pm- sold out) all at the Mahon Theatre, Aquinas College, 46 Great Ryrie St, Ringwood. Tickets are available from the company's website.
I strongly recommend seeing the show, as its great value for money, easy to get to (even from the other side of the city) and worth supporting the whole company as they deliver another great performance event.