One of the most beloved of all fairy stories proved to be equally as enchanting when performed as a ballet, when Beauty and the Beast weaved it’s spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The latest production by the Birmingham Royal Ballet told that age of told of love conquering all with a mixture of menace and charm, and with an ending that was sublimely romantic.
The story is the one we are all familiar with, an angry violent Prince is transformed into a beast by a woodsman disgusted by his bloody pursuit of a vixen. Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck merchant, faced with baliffs and creditors, is waiting for a fleet of cargo ships that are suddenly seen on the coast. Promising to bring his avaricious elder daughters all manner of jewels, his youngest, and favourite daughter Belle wants nothing more than a freshly picked rose. But the merchant’s journey turns from joy to fear when he is first robbed during a storm, and then gets lost. Finding himself in a strange house, he is fed by unseen hands and then roused to sleep. On waking, he discovers his cargo has been returned, and rushes home, but not before plucking a rose for Belle. Unfortunately the rose belongs to the strange, angry beast-like Prince, who demands Belle in return. The rest of the story is, as they say, well known history.
The lead roles are all uniformly excellent. Delia Matthews makes an enchanting Belle, her lightness of step and gentle mannerisms contrast markedly with her elder sister’s, who are all rapid movements and flouncing steps. The use of white costumes for Beauty mean she is an ethereal, pure presence who quite literally lights up the stage. In contrast, the Beast (Tyrone Singleton) is a dark and brooding presence. His frustration, virility, anger and menace is tempered by his gentleness towards beauty, and is able of showing both sides to the Beastly character. He is genuinely frightening when he attacks Belle’s father, and yet heartbreaking when he is dying from lost love. One scene in particular that stays in your mind is when he shields his face from Belle after seeing her beauty, it shows the Beast’s vulnerability and is quite beautiful and poignant.
The supporting cast are also superb, from James Barton who is hilarious as the piglike Cochon, courting both of Belle’s sisters in the funniest scenes. Yaoqian Shang as Wild Girl, protecting the Beast who once tried to kill her when she was a the vixen is just lovely, especially when she takes on the mannerisms of the vixen, all coquettish and light of movement. Marion Tait is once again hilarious, this time as ‘Grandmere’, adding laughs to the wedding scene, which, in itself is one of the most delightful set pieces. The Raven, and the Birds of the Air, were also truly wonderful in the scene when they were transferring Belle to the Prince’s castle, there are elements of a Busby Berkley chorus line in this dance.
A mention must be made of the set, which is almost a character in itself. Constant scene changes are flawless, and the dark, haunting castle is awe-inspiring in the way it helps to create the mood. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia were also on top form, capturing humour, heartbreak and love with ease.
If you like your ballet dark, but with a sprinkling of humour, and a truly happy ending, then Beauty and the Beast is definitely one not to miss.
Beauty and the Beast runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd March. Click here for ticket information.