A CHRISTMAS pantomime tops the list of many families' festive traditions, so we won't have been the only ones delighted to return this December.

Theatres across the country will have breathed a collective sigh of relief on opening nights this year after losing out in 2020 thanks to Covid restrictions – and Richmond's Georgian Theatre Royal was no different.

Thankfully, the theatre was able to use lockdown well in refurbishing its auditorium, putting in new, more comfortable seating and installing an air conditioning system to keep fresh air flowing.

And like every other year, a huge amount of effort has gone into making its annual offering full of joy, laughter – and an extra dose of heart.

A Georgian panto wouldn't be complete without a strong dose of local and topical humour, and this year was no different with plenty of quips about difficulties in parking, the town's steep hills, and even a montage of life in lockdown which somehow managed to feel pleasantly nostalgic.

The company had a new dame this year in Nick O'Connor, who has previously been a deliciously evil baddy in previous shows. His warm Liverpudlian accent, comic timing and knowing looks to the audience made him a perfect dame and was a strong backbone of the cast.

Belle was played by Lucy Carne, who has a gorgeous singing voice and brought some much-needed feistiness to the role; and the Beast by Ben Andrews, who somehow managed to have amazing facial expressions despite being under a full mask and loads of hair.

Alex Moran, who played the part of the genie Freddie Mercury in the 2019 production of Aladdin, was probably the hardest-working of the cast, taking on the roles of Lumiere, Cogsworth and Ridgeley – each with completely different accents so I had no idea Cogsworth and Lumiere were the same character until the end of the show!

Completing the acting line-up was Marcus Jones as Gaston, who was a hilariously power-hungry district councillor bad guy, as well as being a brilliant singer and dancer. Music was from musical director Daniel Bowater and musician Alastair James; and not forgetting the fantastic supporting cast of young performers.

All the much-loved elements were there – the sing-along with audience participation, Tunnock's Teacakes, and of course, this year's knitted hearts. This is a panto for all ages, with jokes for the grown-ups and plenty of silly fun for younger members of the audience.

Make sure you don't miss out.

Beauty and the Beast runs at The Georgian Theatre Royal from 3 December 2021 to 9 January 2022. Tickets cost from £12 to £22 and are available from the Box Office on 01748 825252 or via the online booking service on the Theatre’s website: www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk

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