Beauty and the Beast, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

CAMBRIDGE audiences saw a new Beauty and the Beast last Christmas, and the production was so good that the company and the co-producers decided to take it out again. So this year the show is at the Tobacco Factory in Bedminster, Bristol, bringing inspired storytelling, atmospheric original music, broad comedy, pathos and a moral message to the south west.

There are many ways to tell this ancient tale, whose origins seem to be in France. A wealthy, arrogant and handsome young man insults a cold and hungry stranger at his door – and she curses him. Trans­formed into a hideous beast, he must live alone until he finds someone who loves him for himself, not how he looks.

It’s a big ask.

But into the woods near his castle comes a destitute family, fleeing Paris after the loss of their fortune. Maurice has three daughters, the lovely Isabella and the ghastly, greedy, egocentric twins Anastasia and Latrice, who don’t care a fig for their widowed and impoverished father.

The story has been brilliantly interwoven, with its Cinderella moments, its magic and its transformations. The company and director Alex Byrne not only devised the clever script but composed the Klezmer-Sevdah music, played by the actors on a variety of instruments on and (just) off stage.

Musical director Elliot Davis joins Samantha Sutherland as the hilariously awful twins, with the handsome Martin Bonger as the Beast and Ben Tolley as father. Sara Lessore is a plucky and charming Isabella, just the sort of girl that a beast needs when growl comes to scratch.

The key message, says the programme, is that love is stronger than hate and anger and self pity. Beauty is only skin deep. It’s a centuries-old story about not judging … a message that’s just as important now as ever.

And it’s a show that clearly delighted all ages at the Tobacco Factory, where Christmas shows with a difference are now the annual must-buy ticket.

The show is a co-production for Tobacco Factory Theatres, New International Encounter and Cambridge Junction


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