A SWANSONG performance at a historic Northwich venue ensured its final pantomime was one to remember.

Beauty and the Beast was performed at Northwich Memorial Hall by Barnton Variety Theatre Workshop (BVTW) from January 24 to 27.

I went to see the Saturday night performance on January 26 and was captivated by its enormous sense of fun and its professionalism.

I believe the production had already seen a full house or two by the time I saw it but the audience that night was sadly lacking.

This was disappointing, knowing how much a traditional panto relies on a good crowd to move the plot along with its boos, hisses and traditional shouts of ‘he’s behind you’.

But BVTW refused to let a smaller audience daunt them and the fabulously larger than life performances soon filled the hall.

Beauty and the Beast had all the elements you could wish for in a panto, from a panto horse, a good fairy and a delightfully evil villain to the perfect dame and hilarious stage-stealing ugly sisters to the most angelic heroine and thoughtful hero.

This performance was also laced with wonderfully witty repartee and even a smidgen of Northwich satire to make the home crowd chuckle.

In fact, I wish I’d gone to the show with my notebook in hand to jot down some of the marvellous insults and put-downs between the ugly sisters and between Belle and wannabe hero Jean-Claude - it was very well written and well delivered.

There were a number of strong performances among the flamboyant cast and chief of these was the panto dame, Madame Dolores Lily Chantilly Tres Jolie (or Dolly Jolly), played to perfection by Ken Boyd.

He was a big favourite with the audience, partly because he threw sweets to us and partly because when he appeared on stage we were guaranteed a giggle, and for all the right reasons.

He was frequently joined on stage by ugly sisters Chardonnay, played by Susie Jones, and Lambrini, played by Carl Cooper, who were a fantastic double act, though Cooper stole the most laughs with his mannerisms and ridiculously short skirts.

Then there was the beauty of the story, our heroine Belle, played by Jenny Little.

She managed to convey the seriousness of her character, surrounded by a crazy mamma and two equally crazy sisters, while also delivering some devastatingly cutting lines to Jean-Claude, whose love for Belle comes second only to his love for himself.

Little also proved herself vocally with the part of Belle, providing the panto with some of its most beautiful and moving solo songs.

The part of Prince Louis and the Beast was played by Julie Ackerley.

I would imagine this was a tricky role for a woman to play but Ackerley didn’t let us down, showing us a thoughtful and gentle Prince dreadfully transformed into a cruel beast, and his return transformation as the spell breaks.

She also provided some attention-grabbing solo songs during the performance.

Countess Cruella, played by Laura Sanderson, cannot go unmarked.

She was beautifully evil throughout the play, ably assisted by her tridant-bearing sidekick Adam Boyd, and perfected the villain’s cackle to a tee.

She also impressed vocally, leaving me with the song ‘I Put a Spell on You’ trapped in my head for the whole weekend.

Last but not least I want to mention the wonderfully egotistical Jean-Claude, played by Joe Moore, whose panto gestures and mannerisms were a job well done.

His was a confident performance and he definitely knew how to command a stage.

I’ve chosen to pick out a small number of perfomers from an impressive ensemble which really did excel.

The other thing which struck me while watching the performance is the warm family atmosphere of the entire company, which extened over the audience and made the panto a joy to watch.

And I’ve barely touched on the fabulous dance routines from Quicksteps School of Dancing, who brought life to the wide variety of musical numbers and showed off some impressive lifts, and the magic worked by the musicians themselves.

Lighting, scenery and costumes all added to the show and made it a great success.

Overall, the show was jam-packed with fun - a spirited, lively and entertainng performance and all you could wish for from the last panto at Northwich Memorial Hall.