Review: Beauty on the Piste, Above The Stag Theatre
December is upon us, bringing with it festive cheer, overindulgence, cuffing season and, of course, Above The Stag Theatre‘s annual adult panto – this year, Beauty on the Piste.
The Vauxhall-based theatre is the UK’s only full-time, professional LGBT theatre, and it’s pantos have reached almost-cult status in recent years, with Beauty on the Piste (loosely based on La Belle et la Bête and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) fully sold out already, such is the hype that surrounds the production.
Written by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, with an original score by Bradfield, the panto is in safe hands – the pair have been writing laugh-a-minute, award-winning shows for several years – and, over the course of two hours, delivers pun after pun and up-to-the-minute satirical social commentary.
Set in the Alpine ski town of Les De Nice (not pronounced ‘Les Dennis’, FYI), Beauty on the Piste centres around the story of Beau (Joshua Oakes-Rogers), a sex-obsessed blond twink who sings about his equal opportunities policy when it comes to choosing his bedfellows. When he’s not sleeping around, Beau works at panto dame Morag Trump’s struggling cafe, along with her son, the adorkable, yodel-loving MacDonald Trump, which is under threat from the villainous Gaston-ish Sebastian St Moritz and his plans to buy as much of the ski resort as possible. The scene is set by fairy Mabel, played with panache by Briony Rawle, and along with the main storyline, there are a couple of romantic subplots between Mabel and Mac and Morag and Gustav, Beau’s widowed, doddery-yet-smitten father.
The exposition-heavy first act grows pacier as it goes on, and before too long, Morag and Gustav are out looking for lost goats when they stumble upon the old castle, formerly inhabited by a nobleman but now believed to be deserted. Of course, this is where the beast – in this case a talking yeti – lives as a recluse, having been turned into a yeti for past sins. He soon kidnaps the middle-aged lovebirds on a technicality, only for Beau to offer himself in their place when he arrives in Nazi uniform with Mac (don’t ask). Could Beau hold the key to reversing the Beast’s curse?
The Beast is accompanied in his castle by sapphic housekeeper Heidi (“Hi!”) who’s afflicted by her own curse: she transforms from one inanimate household object to another every two hours. Played by Ellen Butler, an Above The Stag panto regular, Heidi’s Adele-esque, tell-it-like-it-is persona twins with Mabel’s narrator role to propel the story towards it’s slo-mo, cinematic-fight-scene climax in the second act. Though you know it’s coming, Beau’s sincere admission of love for the Beast slightly jars with the sheer irreverence and satire that flows throughout the production overall, but it’s swiftly dealt with and we’re soon back to jokes about Brexit, bottoms and the Labour leadership.
Working in a tight, narrow space in one of Vauxhall’s railway arches, Above The Stag’s shows have to be inventive with sets and staging, but it’s handled well here with four backdrops proving to be enough. The gags are thick and fast, and some don’t really land – more because they’re not given that chance than because they’re not laugh-worthy. The characters work well together on the whole, though Andrew Tuluck’s portrayal of Gustav edges into creepy territory and elicits shivers rather than sympathy. Equally, Simon Burr’s Sebastian doesn’t pack the villainous punch of Gaston in the source material – his capitalist motives don’t really seem to manifest in actions that invite the audience to view him as anything but a supporting character.
Nonetheless, Beauty on the Piste is a well-crafted piece of adult theatre that will banish any idea that pantomime is all about fading soap and reality stars looking to make a quick buck at Christmas in front of school-kid audiences. If you’re one of the lucky few to have snapped up tickets while they were available, you won’t regret it.