In our 111th year of running pantomime, for the first time ever, we bring you Beauty & The Beast, a tale as old as time. But how difficult has it been to re-create one of the most well-known and beloved fairy tales of all-time? We asked David Bown and Phil Lowe, the writing team behind the panto, to tell us more about the creative process and different ideas behind the show.
As a graduate of the University of London, David has been an actor, writer, and director of theatre and television across the UK and in America. He is the Chief Executive of Harrogate Theatre and is co-writing Beauty & The Beast with Phil Lowe, who is also directing the show. David has co-written the previous two pantomimes in Harrogate (Aladdin and Dick Whittington). David had previous pantomime writing experience before he came to Harrogate, and his first panto was Aladdin in 2009. His inspiration for writing panto at Harrogate was both his greatest annoyances and celebrations in life. He also said that he and his creative team bounced off each other for ideas and he has a good writing relationship with Phil.
Being a classic love story, Beauty & The Beast is not a typical rags-to-riches pantomime, with the story being more emotional and heartfelt than David’s other Harrogate Theatre panto credits. “With Beauty & The Beast, you have to concentrate on the emotional side as well as the comedy” says David. This is true, as other typical “pantos” don’t have the same amount of emphasis in the story in relation to love. Very often the love interest of the main character is much less developed and perceived as being very two-dimensional and simple. David maintains that in Beauty & The Beast, Belle and The Beast are on equal footing, and therefore both need similar amounts of character development and planning to fully fulfil the roles and create the feeling of romantic tensions between the two.
Phil began his working life as an assistant vet, with a small theatre job as a driver on the side. He was eventually offered a six-month contract as a technician and worked for the theatre for 5 years. He then worked on the crew and eventually became assistant director for 2 years before being offered to direct the panto by David. Beauty & The Beast will be Phil’s 5th panto at Harrogate Theatre, and he is relishing the challenge of co-writing and directing it. He draws inspiration from classic, old-school comedy, in particular that of Morecambe and Wise. He again feels that people today only laugh at shock comedy, whereas acts like Morecambe and Wise blend intelligent, thoughtful comedy aimed at adults, and more obvious, physical humour, primarily aimed at children. From these ideals you get an all-encompassing, family-oriented feel to the show, which is exactly what panto is about.
Phil feels that Beauty & The Beast, not being a panto done before at Harrogate Theatre, gives a modern message to the audience. Beauty & The Beast is not about finding treasure or the fountain of youth, or anything of that kind, but it is a story about two people falling in love. Phil is looking forward to directing and writing a panto which isn’t “traditional” in a conventional sense. “Beauty” was made popular in the 90’s by Disney, which is unlike other pantos done at Harrogate, as most are stories like Mother Goose or Jack and the Beanstalk. Phil says that it is a good thing to move away from the “wealth = happiness” mindset, and “Beauty” is a prime example that looks and wealth aren’t everything, and all that matters is what you are like on the inside.