The cast of the canniest panto in the land, Sunderland Empire’s 2023 production of Beauty and the Beast, checked into Lumley Castle Hotel in Chester-Le-Street to launch the return of Wearside’s biggest pantomime ahead of the festive season and reveal it’s sparkling cast.

Recently announced North East actress Charlie Hardwick, set to star as sugarplum sweet Fairy Bon Bon, was joined by the North East’s Queen of Comedy Miss Rory (Boulevard), as the dazzling Rorina La Plonk alongside the side-splittingly funny Tom Whalley reinvented as the ever-cheeky Louis La Plonk, both back for a fourth year by popular demand. Children’s TV favourite Olivia Birchenough (Milkshake!) stars as the book-loving princess Belle with West End star Samuel Wyn Morris (Les Misérables) taking on the fabled role of Beast.

Charlie Hardwick who is best known for playing one of the Dales’ most popular characters, the straight-talking Val Pollard, for which she won awards for Best Comedy, Best Partnership and Best Exit, has enjoyed an exciting career as a regular face on our TV screens with countless screen credits including her recent role as Sue Carp in school-based drama Ackley Bridge, Sian in Byker Grove as well as many TV dramas including Vera, Our Friends In The North and Eastenders. Her film roles include Purely Belter and Billy Elliot. Charlie is very much looking forward to performing on stage at Sunderland Empire for the first time this Christmas and bringing a sprinkling of fairy dust over this timeless tale.

Charlie was joined on the day by everyone’s favourite quick-witted dame, Miss Rory, as Beast’s chaotic housekeeper Rorina La Plonk. Arriving in her first iconic sequined look of the festive season, a Parisienne-inspired outfit, she is sure to have audiences saying ooh la la with her striking new designs! It of course wouldn’t be a Sunderland Empire panto without her ever comical partner in crime, Tom Whalley, as he brought his larger-than-life energy to the castle and hilarity by the bucket load. Get ready to shout ‘Alreet!’this December as Tom bursts back onto the stage as the slapstick funny Louis La Plonk.

There would be no enchanting tale without the bookish, free-thinking Belle played by the joyful Olivia Birchenough, who is best known for presenting channel 5’s leading children’s strand Milkshake! each morning for the last 11 years as well as fronting the channel’s nationwide theatre tours. Olivia arrived at Lumley Castle fresh from making her West End Debut in The Ministry of Science at the Savoy Theatre this summer.

You naturally can’t have Beauty without the infamous Beast, played by West End star Samuel Wyn Morris. Samuel is returning to Sunderland Empire’s stage after recently starring as the brave and daring Enjolras in the UK Tour of Les Misérables last November. Samuel can’t wait to perform in his first panto in the North East, a place he says reminds him of home, and is hoping to bring a bit of Welsh thunder to his role.

Join Belle, the Beast, Fairy Bon Bon, Rorina La Plonk and her cheeky chappy son Louis La Plonk, alongside a whole host of larger-than-life characters, as they are transported to a cursed castle under the spell of an evil enchantress. Can the arrogant Hugo be defeated? Can Belle see beyond the Beast and fall in love with her captor? Will the Beast’s heart be melted by Belle’s beauty?

With side-splitting comedy, sumptuous costumes, fabulous scenery, a thrilling transformation scene and an award-winning script by Jon Monie (Winner Best Script – Great British Pantomime Awards), be our guest for a magical North East panto that’s not to be missed!  

Catch the enchanting classic, Beauty and the Beast, roaring onto Sunderland Empire’s stage from Friday 8 – Sunday 31 December 2023. Tickets are available online now at*

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to online bookings.

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