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Watermill - Beauty and the Beast

1st December 2000 to 13th January 2001.

Director John Doyle talked to the Newbury Weekly News.

Why theatre is so special to John

Keeping audiences wrapped in traditional Christmas spirit but moving away from celebrity pulling-power is a tricky business.

John Doyle, director of 'Beauty and the Beast' at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, is keen to revive the classic love story without resorting to corny puns.

"I think that maybe there is a trend that is moving away from Christmas pantomimes," he says. "Personally the thought of somebody falling into custard isn't my cup of tea.

"I wouldn't go and see a panto just because there was somebody from the television in it, although I have nothing against that.

"But panto has always been something really spectacular and I don't think that the theatre is the right sort of place for it any more - an arena would be better suited."

In Doyle's version of the classic, the beauty is an English rose, the stepmother an American aunt and the beast is a bird-man.

"Beauty and the Beast doesn't have the traditions of a pantomime and I've concentrated on telling the love story clearly so that the children can enjoy it.

"But there is a bit of joining in for the audience and the character of the American aunt is sort-of the dame. She carries the comedy but not the main story."

"The Watermill is a very special place and I really love it here. The people who work here really care about it and I think there is a real buzz about the place.

"That is something that I think is projected to the audience and there is a real heart to this theatre which is hard to get into places nowadays."

He added that Christmas shows still have a unique place in the traditional family celebrations.

"You have to remember that for a lot of your audience, this is their one visit to the theatre for the year, so we have to make it very special and hope that they will return."

Here's the review from the NWN.

A cracker of a show!

'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST', at the Watermill, until January 7

The Watermill was the first theatre to kick off the Christmas shows this weekend and what a cracker!

The buzz of anticipation was there as soon as we entered the auditorium, a magical place, sparkling from floor to ceiling with fairy fights and thorn forest, enveloped by a rolling mist. It was theatre in the round, with - more intrigue - a rag tag of quirky metal utensils, cheese graters, sieves, chimes, dustbin lids and broken mirrors suspended over the revolving stage.

No-one was far from the action, which even took place on the balconies, and was kept to a cracking pace by five larger-than-life characters straight out of panto. Versatile, too, these actor/musicians, plucking musical instruments out of the air as they moved the story along - trumpets, guitars, kazoos, swanny-whistles, even a double bass masquerading as a horse called Dinah. And the kitchen utensils came in mighty handy for percussion - you wouldn't believe how rhythmic a waffle iron can be.

The story went by the book - Beauty, played as a practical down-to-earth Northerner, sees good in every situation. Well, she has to really, given her dysfunctional family of merchant father (what a loser), kind, loving, but absolutely balmy, and her 'Southern Belle' Auntie with gum-chewing wimp of a son, junior - a perfect comic duo. Off they all go to find fame and fortune.

Forget the image of a hairy, hunchback Beast. This one was a black predatory figure, gaunt and crow-like, made ugly and sentenced to a solitary existence in his castle prison by his 'caring' mum, who wanted him to find a girl who would love him for himself, not his looks or his considerable fortune. Now girls, watch out for a tantalising glimpse of a deliciously handsome young man brooding under his disfiguring beak-like mask. Understandably, he had become bitter with his demise, but, true to all good fairy tales, the lovely Beauty turns it all around - eventually - and love blossoms, turning the magic red roses white, as foretold by Mr Beast's mother when he found the girl of his dreams.

Ah! Everyone likes a happy ending and they loved this one, with a thunderous ovation following the heavy metal finale... Well, you had to be there!