Beauty and the Beast, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Bristol Hippodrome

WHEN the interval arrived in this Philip Prowse-designed beautifully-staged, expertly-lit and sumptuously costumed production, I was at a loss for a moment to work out why it had so captivated me and my fellow audience members.

Yes, it had been a delight on the eye, the animal masks enhanced the characters immensely, and Delia Matthews Belle (Beauty) and Tyrone Singleton as the Beast had ended the act with a lovely, tender pas de deux showing his love as he guards her as she sleeps, but there had been no eye catching big presentations, and the music, whilst fitting the story ideally, had not been memorable.

The second act opened with two equally well staged contrasting scenes. The first a magnificently stage ball, rich in a golden glow, where the Beast, surrounded by a wonderful array of animals, attempts to persuade Beauty to  marry him in spite of his physical infirmities, only to meet with rejection.

The honesty and true love shown in this scene is turned on its head when Beauty arrives home to join the marriage feast of one of her sisters, Fiere, (Laura Purkiss) and Vanite, (Samara Downs). The overindulgent Monsieur Cochon, (James Barton) cannot make up his mind which one he desires, whilst they battle for his affections like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella.

This  splendid trio, plus Michael O’Hare as Belle’s weak-willed father and Marion Tait’s dithering grand-mere, with fine support from the ensemble, brought a very welcome lighter touch to this fundamentally dark tale.

Matching all these characters are the delightful Yaoqian Shang, showing the spirit of true love as the Wild Girl, the alter-ego of Beatrice Parma’s  lovely pert Vixen,  Tzu-Chao Chou a bundle of energy and joyous devilment as the Raven, Lachlan Monaghan’s pompous Bailiff and Jonathan Payn’s imperious Woodsman.

When I discovered how close a collaboration the production had been between choreographer David Bintley, composer Glenn Buhr and designer Philip Prowse I found the answer to my question as to why, after what had been a delightful but unspectacular first act, we were all so captivated by this presentation. This was not a ballet with big spectacular pieces designed to showcase an individual or soloist. Here the music, played with complete understanding by an orchestra readily responding to the definite commands of conductor Philip Ellis, dove-tailed perfectly into the developing story, enhanced all the way by expertly-lit scenery that almost mysteriously changed in mood and shape, this, plus outstanding masks and costumes, helped to make this production a visual treat.


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