Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beauty & the Beast, Mayflower Theatre Southampton until Saturday then touring

★★★

Review by Soraya Scrivener

Background

A Prince cursed by a Woodsman is doomed to live as a beast in his castle with the animals he hunted until the spell can be broken by love.

David Bintley, Artistic Director since 1995, who is sadly retiring from BRB this Summer choreographed this production, first staged in 2003. He has blended some new twists with the original folk myth which includes transformations to animals not furniture. The story rather baffled me, so I urge everyone to read the detailed synopsis in the programme as it is rather complicated and nothing like the Disney version most are familiar with.

The Review

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Paul Murphy and lead by Vanessa David deliver Glenn Buhr’s music to perfection though the dramatic score is a little odd with a start I mistook for the orchestra tuning up. This was instantly forgotten as we were immersed in a grand setting of Belle posed upon a magnificent library staircase. My confusion for the evening began during the prologue as Belle was still on stage during the hunt and as the curse unfolded. Also transformed here is the Wild Girl, danced by Yaoqian Shang, First Soloist on opening night. Her fluidity of movement and mesmerising performance kept me enthralled every time she was on stage and worth the ticket price alone. I was particularly fond of the 4 hunter’s stylised riding movements here.

In Act 1 I enjoyed the inventive idea of the birds transporting Belle to the castle though arm lines and formations were a little untidy. Principal Tyrone Singleton portrayed the Beast with suitably animal-like movements and Delia Mathews was graceful as Belle. Their first pas de deux had some pleasing lifts but perhaps willingly close a little too quickly which prevented me from connecting emotionally with their relationship from the off. This was heightened by their love blossoming during the interval rather than developing in front of us.

Designs by Philip Prowse were satisfyingly gothic. Comic touches such as the chair with arms that folded around Belle’s father and the wine goblet magically filled were very well received by the audience. More of these special effects would have been very welcome. The huge gates were impressive and rotated to cleverly create the inside and outside of the castle. Unfortunately, the company’s movements were often restrained in the limited space that was left.

Act 2 opened with a waltz in the now beautifully candle-lit castle. Tzu-Chao Chou as the Raven delighted with sharp bird-like gestures leading the procession and patterns of the company as animals. Belle and the Beasts entrance to the ball was breath-taking as Mathews  bouréed in. Her solo after the proposal and Singleton’s turmoil at letting her go home was heartfelt.

Somewhat out of context we were then treated to an amusing and confusing Wedding scene involving both Belle’s spoilt sisters played by Laura Purkiss and Samara Downs. The beloved Marion Tait stole this scene with her comical walking stick wielding Grandmère. Soloist James Barton as Monsieur Cochon (Mr Pig) also entertained. The sisters were given rather an excess of arabesques throughout the performance. Named Vanité and Fière meaning vanity and proud, I would have liked to have seen the sister’s costumes and characters much more exaggerated and similar to the Ugly Sisters they played here with spectacular facial expressions two years ago.

Lighting by Mark Jonathan impresses throughout. His transformation of the castle was stunning and made an atmospheric setting for the final pas de deux. Mathews disbelieving reaction to the switch from Beast to Prince was sincere, however, Belle continued to look for the Beast for far too long.

Conclusion

Disappointingly the story was not a hit for me, and I wasn’t particularly moved by this production, however, in the theatre and on my way home I did meet people who clearly enjoyed their evening.

At the Mayflower Theatre until Saturday then touring until May in Birmingham, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Salford, Sunderland and Bristol.

Alternative performances

2 relaxed performances – 6pm Friday 1st February, Southampton Mayflower Theatre and 1pm on 28th February at Birmingham Hippodrome.

 First Steps:  Beauty and the Beast suitable for age 3+ on Friday afternoons (all venues except Sunderland Thursday afternoon)

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